Bears down: Cal can’t make up early deficit, falls in NCAA opener to Baylor

Another loss on Saturday will spell elimination

If the Cal baseball team got points for trying, it would have won its first postseason game in 10 years.

But there are no sympathy runs in baseball, so the Bears instead fell, 6-4, to Baylor on a 93-degree afternoon at the Houston Regional. The loss leaves them playing for their lives tomorrow at noon PT against the loser of the Rice-Alcorn State game (which, barring catastrophic meltdown, will be Alcorn State). The loser of that game will be knocked out of the tournament.

For those who have followed Cal this season, the reasons why the Bears lost should come as no surprise: Their offense slept through the first six innings while the pitching staff took a beating.

Righty starter Erik Johnson survived just 2 ⅓ innings, giving up five runs during that span. The Baylor hitters hardly had to work for them; Johnson walked six of the 16 batters he faced and threw only 34 strikes out of 73 total pitches. His replacement, Logan Scott, gave up one more run in the third on a single by left fielder Cal Towey to put Baylor up, 6-0, through three.

The two teams coasted through the next few innings, but the Bears woke up in time to add some late drama to the contest. In the top of the seventh, shortstop Marcus Semien energized Cal with a triple to the gap in right center off Baylor’s sharp starter, Logan Verrett. Right fielder Chad Bunting drove him in, baptizing what suddenly started to look like a legitimate comeback.

In the next inning, left fielder Austin Booker doubled down the third base line and advanced to third on a single by second baseman Tony Renda. Catcher Chadd Krist — who left behind his recent slump with a 3-for-4 day — doubled in Booker on the next pitch.

With one out and one run already in, Semien stepped to the plate. He took a ball, fouled off a pitch, and then squared up reliever Trent Blank’s third offering to shallow right field. The relay throw was cut off, and Renda raced around from second to score. Baylor 6, Cal 3.

“To me the game had the feel of a basketball game,” Baylor coach Steve Smith said. “You just knew that at some point they were going to make a run, and they did and we weathered it.”

The Bears earned one more run in the eighth off an RBI single by first baseman Devon Rodriguez, but Bunting was cut down at the plate to end the inning. It was the kind of risky baserunning the moment necessitated, but that same aggressiveness would soon spell the end for the Bears.

With freshman Derek Campbell pinch-hitting for third baseman Mitch Delfino, Cal led off the top of the ninth with a single off Baylor closer Max Garner. Garner came right back to pop out Darrel Matthews and strike out another freshman pinch hitter, Andrew Knapp. Then, the game swung back in Cal’s favor.

Garner walked Booker on four pitches to bring up the one man that Cal wanted at the plate more than anyone else — Renda, the Pac-10 Player of the Year.

“With Tony up in the ninth inning, I liked our chances,” Esquer said.

The tying run on first base, Renda watched Garner’s fifth-consecutive ball go by. Then another. And another.

With the count at 3-0, Renda swung away. He flew out to left field to end the ballgame.

Katie Dowd covers baseball.