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|GAME AT A
Point: California had just taken a 2-1 lead on Derek Campbell’s RBI single, and a subsequent error by outfielder Krey Bratson helped Campbell take second. He went to third on a sacrifice bunt and tagged up on Tony Renda’s fly to shallow right field. Aggies right fielder Tyler Naquin has a tremendous arm, but third-base coach Tony Arnerich challenged him anyway and sent Campbell. “I remember in pregame saying, ‘This guy’s got a gun,’ ” Campbell said. “So I’m just running as fast as I can, and I don’t think twice about it. I trusted my coach.” Campbell scored when Naquin’s throw sailed over catcher Kevin Gonzalez. “I thought at the time it would have been a big momentum switch for us, getting off the field that way,” Aggies coach Rob Childress said. Instead, the third defensive miscue of the inning gave the Bears a 3-1 lead.
OMAHA—If the timeline had unfolded as University of California at Berkeley officials wanted, Bears players such as sophomore Tony Renda and freshmen Kyle Porter and Derek Campbell would be in the process of finding new baseball programs for the 2012 season.
Instead, Cal alumni and friends raised the money to keep the program from being eliminated, and Renda, Porter and Campbell are making memories and making themselves Cal baseball heroes. The three played key roles as the Bears staved off elimination—the program’s new specialty—and beat Texas A&M 7-3 in the seventh game of the 2011 College World Series.
Porter, a freshman lefthander, got the victory, improving to 6-0, 1.89 with six strong innings of work in just his fourth start of the season. Campbell had two hits and two RBIs, factoring into both of Cal’s three-run rallies off Aggies All-America starter Michael Wacha (9-4). And Renda, the team’s de facto spokesperson from the time the program’s elimination was announced in the fall to its reinstatement in April, had two hits of his own and scored the team’s final run.
For Cal, it wasn’t about one hero, just like the program wasn’t about one person. It took a team effort to beat Wacha, who had his fastball and changeup working early and shut California down through the first four innings before his defense deserted him in a three-run fifth inning. That seemed to give the Bears confidence, as they added six more hits and four more runs off Wacha over the next two innings.
“If that guy isn’t going to be at the top of the draft list next year, I’m missing something,” Cal coach David Esquer said. “He’s a heck of a pitcher, so that is a heck of a win for us. I’m happy our guys kind of grinded it out, because that’s how we do it . . . Just over and over it just pieced together. That kind of falls in line to how we have to do it as a team. It’s not one guy and a three-run homer leading the charge. It’s piece by piece, with every player playing a role.”
Texas A&M’s defense played a large role as well, with two errors in the fateful fifth. Chad Bunting reached second base to lead off when Texas A&M’s Adam Smith threw away his grounder to third, and Darrel Matthews’ single put runners at the corners. Campbell followed with an RBI single that center fielder Krey Bratsen bobbled for another error, scoring Matthews and advancing Campbell to second. After a sac bunt pushed the runner to third, Renda lifted a sac fly to right that scored Campbell when Tyler Naquin’s throw home sailed high.
“I guess it kind of got me off my groove a little bit, but credit to Cal hitters,” Wacha said of the fifth. “They just hit everything I threw up there. I just didn’t make pitches whenever I needed to . . . That happened in the inning with the errors. We could have gotten out of it if I had made better pitches.”
Conversely, Porter made pitches when he had to. Smith touched him for a solo shot—just the third homer of the CWS—in the fourth inning but Porter responded well. He struck out a pair of hitters to end the fifth, keeping the momentum on Cal’s side, and the Bears took a 6-1 lead with four hits—including Campbell’s second RBI single—in the sixth.
Texas A&M’s best rally came in the sixth when a Cal error, three singles and Porter’s lone walk of the game led to two runs. Porter, a versatile reliever most of the season who’d pitched more than five innings only once previously this season, hung in and struck out lefthanded-hitting Kenny Jackson to end the threat and his evening.
Closer Matt Flemer came on and was lights-out the last three innings, striking out five and giving up three harmless two-out singles—one in each inning—to send the Aggies packing.
“After we’d hit the home run, they’d come right back and (scored), two of them by way of errors, and never looked back,” Texas A&M coach Rob Childress said. “We did get back into it, but didn’t have another inning where we could have had a run. Credit Cal. They did a great job. They’re moving on, and so are we.”
The Aggies move on to 2012 with Wacha returning at the front of the rotation. The Bears move on to another game in Omaha against the loser of Tuesday’s Virginia-South Carolina showdown. It’s something to look forward to, which is all the Bears could have asked for last fall.