Senior Weekend. California rivalry. National Television. This was a big stage for Cal and they delivered this weekend against a very good USC team. It did not start off very well, and in fact the Trojans scored first in all three games, which just made the series win even more impressive. Let's do a quick recap and then look at Cal's tourney chances, honors, and then the Oregon State preview.
SATURDAY: USC 11, California 3
The series opener was all Trojans as the Trojans scored 9 unanswered runs in the middle innings to secure the victory. The game started out 1-1 after two innings but the main blow was a five run fifth inning capped off by at two-run Timmy Robinson home run.
For the third series in a row sophomore ace Daulton Jefferies was not able to pick up a win. We really need him to do well in order to make a deep postseason run so this is a concern. He had injury issues earlier this season and missed a few starts and this could be the reason for his late season struggles. Hopefully he can have a strong effort at Oregon State, where the Bears can make a huge statement. In his defense, since his return from injury he did shut down the No. 6 UCLA Bruins in the Bears' only win that weekend. The potential is clearly still there.
SUNDAY: California 7, USC 5
The middle game was Senior Day, presumably due to the better weather and the fact that this game was a bit easier for fans to attend than the Monday nighter. Unfortunately I arrived too late to take pics, but Cal's official recap includes pictures and videos from the event.
USC took a 2-0 lead before Cal put up a three-spot in the second inning. USC however would respond right away with the tying run and it was a 3-3 tie until the bottom of the fifth when Chris Paul hit a two run double, with two-outs to give Cal the lead again. Once again, it didn't last as the Trojans tied it up in the seventh. Brian Celsi would respond with a deep shot in the bottom frame that was nearly caught by a sliding Bobby Stahel in what would have been the catch of the year if he secured it. Fortunately for us, it fell out of his glove as he slid to the ground, and Cal took the lead. Chris Paul would add another run in the eighth on a sacrifice fly and Dylan Nelson would get the save.
Cal starter Ryan Mason was only able to pitch three innings, due to giving up eight hits in three innings (USC would score once in each of his innings). Not a start we want to see, but he has shown against Campbell and Arizona State that he can get the job done.
MONDAY: California 7, USC 2
Once again, USC took the first lead. Despite getting the first two outs easily, starter Matt Ledrech gave up a walk, two hits to give up a run, and then an error on catcher Brett Cumberland on a caught stealing resulted in one more run when his throw to second was off the mark.
USC would get out of jams in the first and second, but Cal finally came through in the third. Devin Pearson led off the inning getting on base thanks to an error, and Chris Paul made shortstop Angelo La Bruna pay for his mistake by hitting a double off Trojans starter Mitch Hart to get Cal on the board. Brett Cumberland atoned for his error by hitting a two run single that scored Paul and Mitchell Kranson and Cal took the lead and would not give it back.
Cal would later score four more runs and they were all off the bat of Chris Paul, who had a two-run double in the fifth inning and a two-run single with the bases loaded in the sixth. That would make it five RBIs for Chris Paul! His work this weekend did not go unnoticed...
CONFERENCE AND NATIONAL HONORS
Chris Paul was named Pac-12 Player of the Week for the second time this season, for his nine RBI performance against USC. He also batted .700 during the series.
As for the rankings, still no love from the main baseball poll that matters, the coaches poll. It's not necessarily deserved in that Cal's RPI is a "pedestrian" #40, but after beating Arizona State and USC it's still not resulting in bumps from most polls and that's just baffling. Here's all the rankings.
National College Baseball Writers Association: 26
USA Today Coaches Poll: Received votes (Apparently #27, but not sure)
Baseball America: 22
Collegiate Baseball: 16
I'm still new to this so I don't know which, other than the Coaches poll, are really credible.
Also feel free to check out this awesome article on Calbears.com about Sophomore pitcher Daulton Jefferies.
OREGON STATE PREVIEW
Oregon State and Cal are both on the outside looking in to host an NCAA Regional and I'm not sure there's anything Cal can do to host one, but Oregon State is probably a series win away from solid consideration, and can be a certainty with a sweep of the Bears. It would be great for Cal to get some solid momentum and get a road series win against a team that has been one of the best in college baseball in recent years (Being ranked #20 is actually a disappointment for them).
Oregon State has owned Cal over the years, with sweeps in 2012, 2013 and 2014. However, those Oregon State teams were really really good and those Cal teams were pretty ... not good. So, hopefully that stat can be thrown in the trash this year.
The schedule is Friday at 7pm, Saturday at 4pm and Sunday at 3pm. All three games will be on Pac-12 Networks. Hope you all can give the team your support.
NCAA TOURNAMENT IMPLICATIONS
I don't think there's any way the Bears don't get in even if they get swept at Oregon State. Their resume is solid. Although they have some bad series losses to Duke, Stanford and Washington State, all at home (or else they'd be ranked and in play for a regional host for sure I'd assume) they've beaten good teams like UC Irvine, Arizona State and USC and also had success against middle of the road teams like Arizona, Washington, Oregon, Campbell and Kansas State. They also played #6 UCLA really close on the road, winning one and only barely being edged in the two losses.
As for seeding, we saw Cal softball get a bad draw last week and I hope Cal doesn't wind up being paired with a top seeded team, but we'll have to see what happens this weekend before making conclusions. If Cal is truly around #26 or so in the country hopefully they get a solid spot against a #8 or #9 team or somewhere in that range. Again, we'll talk next week.
As for the rest of the conference, only UCLA has a lock on hosting a regional. USC and Arizona State play each other, and the winner of that series has a shot at a hosting bid. Oregon State can host if they sweep Cal. The five mentioned teams appear to be the only Pac-12 schools that will get in. As I'm writing this, Oregon knocked off Oregon St. in Corvallis in a non-conference game, but they are still on the outside looking in and they play UCLA next. They can get in by upsetting UCLA but if they don't, I'm thinking they're out. No chance for Arizona, Washington, Utah, Washington St, or Stanford. (Colorado does not field a team.)
UCLA has the Pac-12 won already at 21-6. Oregon State (17-9), Arizona State (17-10), Cal (17-10) and USC (16-11) are vying for second place and are all within 2 games of eachother. As mentioned in the last paragraph, in addition to Oregon State vs Cal, Arizona State and USC are playing each other in LA. Should be fun, and all games will be on Pac-12 Networks.
Next week we'll be talking the NCAA tournament! Hopefully we'll be previewing a Cal postseason bid! Go Bears!