The Bears scrapped and battled, but Virginia is the number one team in the country for a reason. They played like it, earning a 4-1 win to send Cal to the loser's bracket. Danny Hultzen was filthy, UVA batters were patient, and the few chances the Bears had to score were quickly snuffed out behind an above average defense. Cal's pitching escaped jam after jam, and it felt like just a matter of time before Virginia made them pay.
The dam finally burst in the 7th and 8th innings as Cal's usually excellent bullpen came up short. A lead off single from 9th place hitter Keith Werman started the 7th ominously, but it got much worse when Chris Taylor walked after trying to bunt Werman over. That walk proved to be the most important play of the game as it set up the heart of UVA's lineup. Cal closer Matt Flemer was brought in but couldn't put out the fire. UVA's 3rd place hitter singled in a run before their clean up hitter drove in another with a sac fly. As it turns out, those runs would be enough for the victory.
Virginia hit Kevin Miller hard in the 8th to drive in two insurance runs before a mini-rally by the Bears plated a run in the 9th. But Virginia brought in top closer Branden Kline, who successfully got the last out of the game to snuff out Cal's fledgling rally.
The game started promisingly for the Bears. Cal couldn't push any runs across against Hultzen, but they brought a good approach to the plate against UVA's ace. Hultzen walked two batters in the first and Cal stayed patient for most of the game, but the Bears struggled to make good contact and only managed three hits against the future Mariner.
Meanwhile, Erik Johnson had control problems of his own, walking five batters before getting pulled after putting the first two batters on base in the 4th inning. In all Virginia put eleven runners on base over the first six innings, but thanks to good defense, a little luck, and two huge double plays the Bears somehow kept the game scoreless.
It felt like a minor victory to chase Hultzen off the mound with one out in the 6th inning due to a high pitch count, but Virginia doesn't lead the NCAA in earned run average for nothing. Tyler Wilson wasn't quite as impressive as Hultzen but he did his job, keeping Cal off the scoreboard until there were two outs in the 9th (when he probably wouldn't have been pitching anyway if Virginia hadn't ralled to a four run lead).
For the Bears it means another do-or-die game against the loser of tonight's Texas A&M-South Carolina clash. Kyle Porter, Dixon Anderson and Justin Jones are all potential options to start in Cal's first elimination game in Omaha, which will take place at 11:00 am Pacific on Tuesday.
Injury concerns will be a major storyline heading into Tuesday. Tony Renda reinjured his strained quad, and Justin Jones' availability with a balky bicep is still unknown. You want to send out your best when facing elimination, but David Esquer may not have that option.
A tough road just got tougher, but we knew this team wouldn't have it any other way, right?