SANTA CLARA, Calif.—As California's players trotted toward center field for a team photo, freshman catcher Andrew Knapp suddenly spun on his heel to face his teammates.
"We're going to Omaha!" Knapp screamed at the top of his lungs, with his fists clenched, forearms toward the sky. "In the first year of the new stadium, the California Golden Bears are going to Omaha!"
It was a scene of joyous incredulity that captured the moment perfectly.
Seriously? Cal is making its first College World Series appearance in 19 years—in the very same season its administration attempted to cut the program? You can't make this stuff up.
The California Golden Bears are, indeed, going to Omaha. They ended another feel-good story Sunday night at Stephen Schott Stadium, beating fellow upstart Dallas Baptist 6-2 to sweep the Santa Clara Super Regional.
"I don't know what to say," Cal coach David Esquer said at the start of the post-game press conference. "I'm looking at the box here so I can believe it—it's on paper. I'm so proud of our team, so proud of our staff.
"We were cut as a program when we were just in informal workouts in September. We hadn't even had our first full team practice. To watch our kids go out and play baseball that Saturday like nothing had happened, like that's what they were meant to do—then behind the scenes to have to deal with all the pressures of trying to figure out their lives. So to be here today, I could not be prouder of a bunch of kids who had to go through what we did and come out the other side. They'll never forget this the rest of their lives."
For the second straight day, Cal did it without the drama that was such a part of its run through the losers' bracket as the No. 3 seed at the Houston Regional last weekend. The Golden Bears allowed just two runs on just seven hits combined in the two games, stifling one of the nation's best offenses in back-to-back games. On Sunday, ace Erik Johnson worked six strong innings, allowing two runs on three hits and four walks while striking out four, and three relievers worked one scoreless inning apiece.
"I think Justin Jones laid it out for me yesterday: mixing his changeup and curveball in and his cutter, having four pitches going," Johnson said, alluding Cal's Game One starter. "I think that was the key for me tonight: At one point in time I had all four pitches working for me . . . I kind of had my juices flowing in the first inning. Coach Esquer comes up to me and taps me on the shoulder and said, 'Catch your breath.'"
Johnson settled down after giving up runs in the second and third innings, and the Bears offense once again used the long ball to build an early lead. This time, Chadd Krist deposited a Jared Stafford offering onto the roof of the hitting structure beyond the left-field fence for a two-run homer in the first, and Cal never relinquished the lead. Tony Renda (limited to DH duties for the second straight game by a pulled quad) and his replacement at second base, freshman Derek Campbell, recorded three hits and one RBI apiece to help power the offense.
"I thought they played well in all three phases of the game," DBU coach Dan Heefner said. "Pitching, hitting and defense, they just flat beat us."
The Golden Bears simply could not be denied this weekend. They played the game at a high level, and they played with energy, feeding off the lively, standing-room-only crowd for the second straight day. After dog-piling near the pitcher's mound after closer Matt Flemer recorded the final out, Cal's players headed back toward the stands near their dugout on the first-base side and saluted their fans, who responded with a deafening roar.
"The only reason we're around is the people that back us, and the people that put their hard-earned money behind us, behind this program, and supported us through it all," Renda said, referring to the donors who contributed more than $9 million to get the program reinstated in April. "With them behind us, we're an extremely strong team, and if we stay together as a group, we're even stronger.
"This whole year brought us closer together, and that's a huge reason we're at where we are today. I'm incredibly proud of everybody on the team for hanging tough, fighting through it, getting us where we are."
Comments will be monitored prior to being added to the site. Comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be rejected. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed.
We have chosen to open up commenting to everyone, so comment away! We want to hear from each and every one of you! Leave a comment.
About This Blog
Syndicate This Blog
Search This Blog