Final countdown: Card come to Cal for last homestand

This series was set to become one of the most emotional, most important series in the 100-plus year history of Cal baseball. It would have been the Bears’ last stand, at home, against their hated rival, for all of eternity (or something like that).

But now that the Bears (31-18, 13-11 in the Pac-10) will be returning for the foreseeable future, this weekend’s three-pack against the Card will be just another chapter in the rivalry.

That doesn’t mean nothing is at stake, of course.

It’s a last chance for both teams to impress the NCAA selection committee. Neither squad is ranked — although they both spent most of the season hovering in the top 20 — but both have hit the 30 win mark that should punch their tickets to the regionals. Now it’s just a matter of landing in a better region. One that doesn’t have, say, No. 1 South Carolina in it.

A strong finish would leave a pleasant taste in the collective mouth of the selection committee. Since being reinstated on April 8, the Bears have gone a tepid 12-11. Now, to be fair, they’ve faced some of their toughest opponents during that stretch, but ending the season on a slump isn’t the way to go.

Stanford’s a lot like Cal (similar record of 30-20, 12-12), but they’ve got slightly better hitting and slightly worse pitching. The fun should be in seeing the Card’s young hitters. Third baseman Stephen Piscotty leads the squad with a .364 average and freshman first baseman Brian Ragira, who holds dual citizenship here and in Kenya, tops the team with 40 RBI. Five of their everyday starters are batting .300 or better.

The Bears counter that with some offense of their own, spearheaded by … Austin Booker?

As odd as it sounds, the senior outfielder is quietly having a career season. He’s leading Cal with a .335 average (second baseman Tony Renda still tops the team easily with 70 hits) and has scored 27 runs. Not too shabby for a player who, until last season, had never had more than 38 at-bats in an entire season.

The schedule’s a bit different this weekend. Because of Stanford’s final exam schedule (student comes before athlete, remember?), there will be no game on Sunday. First pitch on Friday at Evans Diamond is at 2:30 p.m. First pitch of Saturday’s doubleheader is scheduled for noon, with the second game following about an hour after the end of the first.

NCAA regional sites are announced on Sunday, with the full field revealed on Monday at 9:30 am. The Bears are projected by ESPN to land in the Nashville regional with No. 4 Vanderbilt. Not ideal for Cal, to be sure.