Cal Baseball An Improbable One Win From College World Series

June 12, 2011
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Golden Bears Take Game One From Dallas Baptist…

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By CB360 contributor Kevin Kennedy

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Last weekend the California Golden Bears baseball team won the Houston Regional at Rice the hard way – by surviving four straight elimination games to advance to this weekend’s Super Regional round.

Now the Golden Bears find themselves in a much different position … in the driver’s seat, only 27 outs away from the College World Series.

DBU's Brandon Williamson delivers the game's first pitch to Cal's Austin Booker.

The #3 seed Bears (36-21) dominated the #3 Dallas Baptist Patriots (42-19) 7-0 in Saturday’s Game-1 of the Santa Clara Super Regional at Stephen Schott Stadium.

The Bears received six strong innings from sophomore lefthander Justin Jones (9-6) and a pair of three-run home runs to give them the 1-0 lead in the best-of-three Super Regional.

“I was really happy with our starting pitching. Justin (Jones) was fantastic. He was in control the whole time he was in there,” Cal head coach David Esquer said. “The key with our team is to be able to play loose and in the moment.”

The Bears have become one of the great stories in college baseball this season. In late September, the school announced the program along with four other sports would be eliminated because of budget cuts.

Immediately following the announcement, private fundraising began to try and save the program, and in early April the school announced that enough private funds had been raised to save the team.

Now a win away from their first trip to Omaha since 1992, Cal has gone from a big story for all the wrong reasons to a big story for all the right reasons.

Cal seemed unfazed by the TV cameras, playing energized and loose from the start and feeding off the energy from the crowd.

“Couldn’t have asked for more from the home crowd. They came out and supported us. That was a big lift,” said Esquer.

The game was played 50 miles from Cal’s Berkeley campus at Santa Clara University, because both Cal and Dallas Baptist lacked the facility requirements to host NCAA Tournament games.

Cal's Chad Bunting (45) touches the plate after his three run home run.

Despite Cal being the designated road team on Saturday the standing-room-only crowd of 1,431 gave the club a big boost.

The atmosphere was something new to the Bears, who are not used to playing in front of such a big pro-Cal crowd.

“It was pretty awesome,” said Jones. “It’s not a normal thing over at Evans Diamond. To get this big of a crowd, to have everyone in it, backing us up – they are part of our team and it was wonderful.”

Jones allowed a single to Dallas Baptist star hitter senior rightfielder Jason Krizan (.419 average) in the top of the first, but he then retired 15 straight Patriots hitters before a 2-out walk in the 6th.

“In pregame, I felt pretty good. I just went out there and had all my stuff,” said Jones. “Once I had everything, they weren’t going to hit me. It takes confidence to be out there, and tonight I had tons of it.:

The only thing that stopped Jones was a bicep injury that occurred in warmups prior to the start of the bottom of the 7th. Jones immediately was taken out of the game and replaced by sophomore reliever Logan Scott.

Esquer said the Bears coaching staff erred on the side of caution when it came to removing Jones. “He experienced some tightness in his bicep, some discomfort, so we didn’t want to take any chances with that,” said the 12th-year Cal coach.

“We had it checked already, nothing structural with his shoulder or elbow, just muscle tightness in his bicep. Sowe’re going to test that further, and go from there.”

Jones threw only 75 pitches in six full innings allowing one hit, one walk with three strikeouts in the shutout outing.

Scott picked up where Jones left off, pitching the final three innings while allowing no runs and only two hits.

“It’s so important, because if someone comes in with a four-run lead and is a wreck, it can change the game,” Esquer said. “If the guy walks one or two guys, or if they pop [a home run], it’s a different game. So [for Scott] to be able to stabilize and take the baton from Justin and be rolling pretty good was big for us.”

Cal gave Jones and early lead to work with in the bottom of the 2nd.

After Patriots starter senior Brandon Williamson (10-4) began the game by setting down the first four Bear hitters he faced, a pair of sophomores – first baseman Devon Rodriguez and third baseman Mitch Delfino – reached on back-to-back singles. Junior rightfielder Chad Bunting followed the singles by launching a 3-run home run, his team-leading seventh, to left field to give Cal the 3-0 lead.

“He left a changeup over the middle part of the plate,” said Buning. “It was up a little bit. I was able to keep my hands back and put a good swing on it.”

Williamson did not find trouble again until the top of the 6th, when junior shortstop Marcus Semien ripped a triple down the rightfield line with one out. Semien scored on Rodriguez’s sacrifice fly, making it 4-0.

The Bears put the game away when Semien hit another 3-run home run, giving the Bears the final 7-0 cushion. Semien finished the game 2-for-4 with a triple, home run and 3 RBIs.

Williamson left after going 7.2 innings, allowing seven runs, 10 hits, a walk, and four strikeouts. He threw 118 pitches, with more than 80 of them going for strikes.

Dallas Baptist head coach Dan Heefner said he still felt good about Williamson’s performance.

“I thought Brandon threw really well though. He did what he’s done all year long for us, he competes,” said Heefner.

“He had us in the game for the majority of the game when he had us within four. But I even thought that the two home runs he gave up were decent pitches on his part.”

Cal also had two-hit games from Delfino, sophomore centerfielder Darrel Matthews and senior leftfielder Austin Booker.

The Pac-10 player of the year, sophomore Tony Renda, started as the team’s DH instead of second base, after hurting his quad scoring the game-winning run in Monday’s win over Baylor. Renda left the game for a pinch-runner in the 8th, after reaching on a dropped third strike.

Dallas Baptist, playing in the program’s first ever Super Regional, never created anything going on offense. The Patriots finished with only three hits and no player had multiple hits. Krizan was 1-for-4.

The Patriots had only one inning, the 9th, in which multiple runners reached base.

Heefner said Jones and his changeup were a reason for the Patriots’ struggles at the plate.

“[Jones] was throwing that for a strike and really dictating their timing up there, got to give him a lot of credit on that. I also thought he did make a few mistakes, he left some balls up, but we didn’t take advantage of those,” said the DBU coach.

Dallas Baptist came into the series with one of the top offenses in the country, sporting a .311 team batting average. They were shut out for the first time since March 12 at Washington.

The Cal-DBU matchup was billed as Cal’s pitching (2.88 team ERA) vs. the Patriots high-powered offense and Cal proved the cliche that good pitching beats good hitting.

Other than being a pitching vs. hitting series, the Super Regional has been dubbed the “Cinderella Super Regional” –  with two #3 Regional seeds playing each other in a Super Regional for the first time since 2007.

Other than facing the budget axe this season, Cal fought its way through the losers bracket to win in Houston last weekend. Cal won the regional on Monday vs. Baylor by rallying from a 7-1 deficit and scoring twice in the 8th and four more runs in the bottom of the 9th for a 9-8 win. Rodriguez was the hero of the game, with a 2-run blast in the 8th before singling in two more runs, with two outs and two strikes in the 9th.

Dallas Baptist, an independent that has played DI baseball since 2006, was making its second NCAA Tournament appearance (2008) in school history. The Patriots baseball team is the only program at DBU that plays at the Division I level.

The Patriots won the Ft. Worth regional last weekend, after going 3-1. They beat 2010 CWS participants Oklahoma and TCU before beating Oral Roberts on Monday to advance to play Cal.

Cal, which struggled down the stretch by finishing the regular season 12-13, now has won four games in a row. It’s the Bears longest winning streak since a five-gamer in mid-April.

The Patriots will need to get their offense going on Sunday if they want to keep their season alive.

“We didn’t do a great job of executing our plan up there but we’ll give [Jones] credit first on that,” said Heefner. “We definitely need to come out tomorrow and do a better job with that.”

The Cal contingent is stressing that it’s still too early to be thinking about Omaha.

“We can’t even think about that at this point,” Esquer said. “We’ve got a tough opponent on the other side that is going to play for their lives. We know what that’s like,” he said.

Game 2 is Sunday at 10 p.m. ET, 7 p.m. local time. DBU will start senior Jared Stafford (8-4, 3.03 ERA). Cal likely will go with junior ace Erik Johnson (6-4, 2.91).

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