It’s hard to imagine a series of events more challenging for a freshman pitcher making his debut than that which befell Cameron Weston last Friday night.
On a macroscopic level, a neck-and-neck rerun of the 2019 College World Series provided high stakes; even so, Weston’s circumstance of usage borders on cruel and unusual.
The right-hander emerged from the bullpen in the bottom of the seventh to relieve junior right-hander Jeff Criswell, who’d held then-No. 1 Vanderbilt to two hits in six and one-third innings of work. Weston took the mound with one out and two inherited runners.
Against his first hitter, Weston did what the rest of the pitching staff was quite happy to do: pitch to contact and induce a ground ball.
“We have an amazing defense,” redshirt freshman left-hander Steve Hajjar said. “Especially (junior shortstop Jack) Blomgren and (freshman third baseman Ted) Burton on the left side, and (redshirt senior Matt) Schmidt and (sophomore second baseman Riley) Bertram on the right side. Those guys are absolute brick walls behind me.”
But in that moment, a hole in the wall appeared. Michigan coach Erik Bakich elected not to shift against the left-handed pinch hitter Patrick Noland, and a grounder to the right side that could have originated an inning-ending double play turned into a run-scoring single. The game was tied: Weston had blown the hold and Criswell could no longer receive credit for the win.
“I thought our pitching was pretty good,” Bakich said. “(The weakness) was more in the department of allowing batted runners to get to second base, allowing guys to take the extra base.”
After coming up empty against his first career batter, Weston had to face Harrison Ray with runners at the corners. Ray belied his bottom-of-the-order assignment by using a 1-1 offspeed offering to lay down a safety squeeze bunt.
The ball trickled down the first-base line, forcing Weston to make his first defensive play. By the time he’d picked up the ball, Ray was streaking by.
Weston had two options: throw home, where a tag would be needed, or turn around and throw to first, trading a run for an out. He chose the former, but the go-ahead run arrived ahead of the throw.
A fresh set of runners stood on the corners, the top of the order was due up and there was still just one out. Bakich brought in redshirt senior left-hander Ben Keizer, who retired the remainder of the side. Keizer ended up tallying one and two-third scoreless innings and took home the win thanks to Schmidt’s go-ahead homer in the ninth.
“It was a team win for us,” Criswell said. “We battled. It was a back and forth game … It kind of had that post season baseball feel.”
Despite Weston’s struggles against Vanderbilt, Bakich remained confident in his young reliever — confident enough to call upon him in another high-leverage situation.
When Cal Poly made a comeback in the bottom of the ninth the following day, scoring two runs and loading the bases, it was Weston’s time again. With the winning run at bat, he induced a ground ball out on the second pitch, earning redemption and his first save.
“There were so many different breakout candidates that could be on the horizon,” Bakich said. “Just guys that had their moments in different games that could be positive contributors for the entire season.”
Bakich only knows of Weston’s in-game ability because he took two chances on the unproven freshman. Thanks to the risk, both know of the latter’s ability to record collegiate outs in the toughest of spots.