The 10th Hour, or How Cal Baseball Saved its Season

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

Coach David Esquer said this on Sunday night, after his team had scratched out two wins to preserve their season in what was a long, long day broken up by lightning delays. (How about that Houston weather?) The noon PT tilt against Rice stopped for almost three hours in the eighth inning, and pushed back the Baylor game to 7:15. They burst out of the break with three runs in the first game for a 6-3 win, and blew the doors off the second, 8-0.

The day ended close to 10:30, so the 10th hour might literally mean that — or a slight twist on the “11th hour” phrase, appropriate here because the 11th was used up on the program’s miraculous resurrection.

On Monday, Cal stared down a 7-1 deficit and spat in its eye, the last of four straight wins — three coming back from behind — that staved off elimination and advanced the team to its first-ever Super Regional.

It was during that lengthy weather delay against host Rice that the Bears, a group that had limped to the end of the regular season and lost six of their last seven Pac-10 games, rediscovered its early-season swagger. From the players (and coach) themselves, who did their best to try and capture the sort of moments that generally defies description:

Second baseman Tony Renda

“The last game, it doesn’t get much tougher than that. I mean, 7-1? Jesus. We came back and never gave up … We changed pitchers like three times in one inning. Every time we came in, I kept telling Marcus and Devon and Mitch, “We’re gonna come back. We’re gonna come back.” I think everybody had that mentality.

There was a point there where it was 5-7; I knew we had it. We’re winning this game. I’m not making lies down, we’re winning this game. Devon, two strikes, two outs, he gets a base hit. Can’t say enough.”

Starting pitcher Justin Jones

“We were in that two-hour lightning delay, we went in the clubhouse. When we came back, it was just like a new season. It was weird; I’ve never felt that before. … We were hanging out in the locker room, just joking around (during the break). We were out there playing games. See who can make it in the bucket, throwing underhand. Bowling with little Dixie cups.”

Head coach David Esquer

“I felt like we were the more relaxed team towards the end (against Rice). It’s tough to be the host. It’s tough to play at home and play on the edge of being eliminated, and I felt like we were able to take advantage of that. We kept the game close through eight innings and I felt like we played more relaxed at the end. … I can’t explain the ninth inning against Baylor. There’s no strategy into getting yourself down by three runs and giving yourself three outs to catch up but, four runs in the bottom of the ninth. Unbelievable.”

Image source: marcus.mccurdy under Creative Commons