With the Spring Semester coming to an end, it's time for a new feature on our baseball and softball teams. It was a rough 2014 for both teams, but it looks like this season should see a solid postseason run for both teams. Hope you enjoy my new weekly roundup for this final stretch of our Bears on the Diamond, that will hopefully become a season-round feature next season.
Last weekend the Cal baseball team had their biggest test of the season when they hosted Arizona State, ranked sixth in the country, to a three games series. It was hard to be excited for this series. On one hand, Cal was coming off an impressive three game sweep of Arizona. On the other, the last time the Bears were in Evans Diamond, they failed to deliver against bottom ranked Washington State and Stanford, losing two of three to each. The pressure of being at home may be too much for them, I thought. The Bears proved me wrong in a big way.
The Bears looked impressive all three games, even though they fell short in the first game. It was impressive to see Cal take the last two games despite a ton of pressure from the Arizona State offense. Every time it looked like the Sun Devils were going to prove their superiority, Cal had an answer. The big hero was sophomore Aaron Knapp, who had the game winning base hit two games in a row in the final innings.
Friday: Arizona State 5, California 3
The first game of the series was a missed opportunity for Cal. Arizona State took a 3-0 lead in the fifth inning but Cal responded with a Chris Paul two-run home run and a Devin Pearson RBI in the seventh. Unfortunately they could not complete the comeback win, as closer Dylan Nelson gave up a two-run home run to ASU's Trever Allen which wound up being the game winner. Further unfortunate for Cal were the 13 runners left on base.
Saturday: California 5, Arizona State 4
Prior to the game the Bears had an on field ceremony for former Cal football/baseball dual-athlete Brent Woodall who sadly passed away in the World Trade Center in the 9/11 attacks. With his memory in mind, the Bears played an inspired effort. In the second inning catcher Brett Cumberland hit a HR to get the scoring going, but the Sun Devils responded quickly with a three-spot in the third. The Bears would not quit, tying the game in the 5th inning. A Devin Pearson HR in the sixth gave the Bears another one-run lead, but again, the Sun Devils had a rally. The Bears looked like they might get out of a bases loaded one-out situation when Chris Muse Fisher had a key strikeout. However the ball hit Cumberland's knee and bounced behind him, allowing the runner from third to score and tie the game. Fortunately, Fisher would get out of it with just that run.
This set up for heroics in the ninth. Mitchell Kranson led off with a double, and Preston Grand Pre was intentionally walked. Things looked dicey as a sacrifice bunt by John Soteropulus was unsuccessful, and Kranson was forced out at third on a close play. After a ground out by Brian Celsi, in stepped up Aaron Knapp, who lined a single to left field to win the game. The team stormed Knapp at first as they celebrated a key win over the Sun Devils. This was a key game as it would be bad to face a sweep at home against a very good team, but the Bears guaranteed at least one. Could they make it a series win?
Sunday: California 8, Arizona State 6
Sunday's game was a back and forth duel from the start, as both teams scored in the first inning. Cal took a 2-1 lead after the first, but like Saturday, ASU responded with three in the second. Cal would keep chipping away but could not seem to pull through as the Devils would get single runs in the sixth and eighth innings (the eighth inning run being a no doubter HR by Jordan Aboities, who had not hit a HR this season, and only a smidge taller than Jose Altuve. Before you make any jokes, I'm also that tall!), each seemingly putting the game out of reach.
In the eighth inning though, the Bears shined again. Down two runs with two outs in the eighth inning, one runner on, the Bears strung several hits together. Brian Celsi had a single, then Nick Halamandaris hit a single to score a run, and then Aaron Knapp followed with a triple to give Cal the lead. Devin Pearson then hit a single to score Knapp. Lucas Erceg, the starting third baseman, pitched (Yes, you read that right.) a scoreless ninth to secure the win.
As there only eleven teams in Pac-12 play, Cal is the team with the non-conference series. They head to North Carolina to take on Campbell University. I do not know much about them, but they have a solid 27-19 overall record, but sport a mediocre 10-11 record in the Big South conference. It is vital that the Bears take this series, as after this they play two of the Pac-12's best teams in USC and Oregon State. Cal has proven with the series wins against Oregon, Oregon State, and a respectable series loss at UCLA that they can hang with the best, but would love to secure a solid RPI and record such that even a setback in their final six shouldn't prevent a NCAA tourney bid.
(All rankings from USA Today)
The No. 19 ranked Cal softball team had a disappointing showing in Eugene, as they could not overcome the No.1 team in the nation in the Oregon Ducks, losing a close game Friday 5-2 before being blown out (and mercy ruled) 9-0 and 15-1 Saturday and Sunday, respectively. After a 21-1 non-conference start, the Bears could not translate that to success in a power packed Pac-12 conference. They have only won two series, at home against Oregon State (who's not having a great year) and a solid Washington squad. Against the top 3 teams in the conference, No.1 Oregon, No. 6 UCLA and No. 17 Arizona, the Bears are 1-8, although they had to play Oregon and UCLA on the road, losing all six.
Their last series is against rival and last place Stanford, so this is a key moment for the team to rally. An NCAA tourney bid is all but assured, but it seems unlikely the Bears would get to host a regional. A sweep against Stanford, and some stumbles by teams above them in the rankings, could go a long way. Plus, beating the Cardinal is always nice, it hasn't happened to much by Cal in most sports this year.
I hope to be a bit more descriptive next week as I will be attending two of the games in the series, as well as attend the end of the year banquet. They will definitely receive top billing two weeks from now when they start their NCAA tourney run.