Lightning strikes: Cal tops Rice, Baylor to preserve season

Bunting homers twice to spark Bears over Baylor

Cal Baseball vs. USC, 4/2/11
Michael Gethers/File

On Sunday afternoon, the Cal baseball team’s season seemed like it would never end. For nearly three hours, it sat around as lightning warnings repeatedly delayed an elimination game tied at 3-3 midway through the eighth.

But a little rest was all the Bears needed to survive another day, notching a 6-3 win that knocked out regional host Rice and an 8-0 win over Baylor.

The victories set up an elimination rematch between Cal (34-21) and Baylor (31-27) Monday at 4 p.m. PT, the third time the two teams will meet this weekend.

Both started off quietly in a contest that was pushed back to 7:15 p.m., going scoreless until Bears’ right fielder Chad Bunting slapped a one-run homer over left field.

Two innings later, the game began stretching out again — this time because Cal couldn’t stop scoring.

Devon Rodriguez started off with an RBI single with runners on the corners. With the Bears still needing some insurance runs, Bunting was up again two at-bats later. Cal was in good hands; Bunting, who sat out a good portion of the season with a thumb injury, sailed another rocket over the left field wall to add on three more runs.

After that spark, the Bears offense showed up in a way it hadn’t in weeks, plating three more before the final out.

“We’ve been fighting ourselves a little bit toward the end of the season,” coach David Esquer said. “Somewhere around the 10th hour out here, we found our team.”

That team emerged out of the extended break against Rice. While the Owls looked half asleep, committing three of its five fielding errors in the bottom of the eighth, Cal took advantage and slapped in three more runs.

“We had nothing to lose,” said closer Matt Flemer, who earned the win in 1 2/3 innings of work. “We’re the three-seed from California. We just knew if we hung in there, we would have a shot.”

The Owls’ late collapse saved Cal starter Dixon Anderson from becoming the goat. In the second inning, Anderson fell apart in stunning fashion, gift-wrapping a pair of runs for Rice.

With a runner on after a leadoff single, the 6-foot-6 junior overthrew first base on a sac bunt. Then he threw off target twice more, the three consecutive errors bringing home a 2-0 Owls lead.

The mistakes were the nadir of the righty’s unremarkable two-hit start, one in which the hard-throwing Anderson struck out four but walked three, including two free bases with two outs.

Cal capitalized on mistakes as well in the low-hitting game. Rice starter Matthew Reckling walked a batter and threw a wild pitch to put runners on second and third. With two outs, designated hitter Vince Bruno connected on a 2-2 pitch for a game-tying RBI single.

Rice left fielder Keenan Cook knocked out a fifth-inning solo shot, while his Cal counterpart Austin Booker hit a seventh-inning RBI single, knotting the game just before it was put on hold.

“Our guys stayed loose throughout the entire rain delay, but we knew when to check it in at the right time,” Flemer said.