The ball went off Kenny Swab’s bat and Cal center fielder Darrel Matthews, running forward to make the catch, lost it in the sun. As it bounced past him and rolled away, stopping 408 feet from where it started, so too went the Bears’ dream season.
Virginia’s center fielder streaked around the bases, finally reaching home plate as Matthews’ throw bounced in too late. Cavaliers, 3-0.
Ruled an error on Matthews, Swab wasn’t credited with an inside-the-park home run. The niceties mattered little to either team, the three-run lead simply Virginia’s pit stop on the way to an 8-1 win — the Cavaliers’ second over Cal at Omaha’s TD Ameritrade Park.
After winning five elimination games this postseason, the Bears finally lost one.
“We’re proud to be one of the eight teams in the College World Series,” Cal coach David Esquer said. “We’ll never forget this.”
They won’t, but for a proud team that had laughed off deficits all season, it was a bitter way to be sent home.
Swab got the third run of the game against senior Kevin Miller, the second of five Cal pitchers to take the hill. No member of the quintet was particularly effective, allowing a combined 11 hits and five earned runs.
On the very first pitch of the game, Cal starter Dixon Anderson (4-4, 3.86 ERA) nailed shortstop Chris Taylor. Without a single swing, Virginia (56-11) already had one of its best runners on base.
The Bears (38-23) were still lucky then. Catcher Chadd Krist cut down Taylor on the next at-bat as he attempted to steal second. Anderson struck out two straight to finish the frame.
It didn’t last. The 6-foot-6 righty gave up a single to lead off the third inning, and overthrew first on a bunt to put Cavaliers on first and second. A sac bunt gave him one out, but Anderson then flung a wild pitch into the dirt to put Virginia up 1-0. Left fielder John Barr’s sac fly cleared the bases for another run, and Virginia hit two more singles before the inning was over.
Even with Anderson gone after three innings, the Cavaliers continued to find gaps in Cal’s defense. Every pitcher put at least one runner on base except closer Matt Flemer, who faced six batters. Virginia was up 6-0 after six innings.
“Boy, they did that textbook,” Esquer said. “If you look at a lot of their big hits, all to the middle of the diamond.”
In Virginia’s 4-1 win over Cal last Sunday, senior right-hander Tyler Wilson (10-0, 2.24 ERA) allowed Cal its lone run in 2 1/3 innings of relief. He was nearly flawless this time around in a 94-pitch start, advancing his team to a semifinal rematch against South Carolina on Friday.
Cal left fielder Austin Booker reached first when his sharp grounder took a high hop off the glove of first baseman Jared King, but he attempted to steal second soon after. The senior was initially called safe, but was tagged out as momentum carried his arm off the bag.
One pitch later, catcher Chadd Krist lined a stand-up double into left center. It would be Cal’s only extra-base hit of the game.
Wilson retired 20 of the next 22 batters, allowing one run after seven innings of shutout ball. Working his slider and a fastball with precise command, he struck out five and forced the Bears into flying out an uncharacteristic 17 times.
“A guy like him, you just gotta take advantage of his mistakes,” said Pac-10 Player of the Year Tony Renda, who went 1-for-4 and had the Bears’ lone RBI. “He didn’t make too many tonight.”
Cal had six hits to Virginia’s 11, and batted 2-of-12 with runners on base. The Bears were in scoring position only four times.
As the game wound down, Esquer began slotting in the bench, hoping to give everyone at least one taste of the sport’s biggest collegiate stage.
Senior Dwight Tanaka, in the 98th and final at-bat of his career, took three swings and flew out to left center — the first out of the ninth. Eight pitches later, sophomore Vince Bruno did the same for the last out of the season.
“One of the first things I thought was, ‘Is it really over?’ I couldn’t really believe it,” Renda said. “Second thought was, ‘Let’s win it next year.’”