How the Bears survived again: Notes on Cal-Texas A&M

OMAHA, Neb. — For a game unfurled quietly and quickly for the first four innings, Cal’s final 7-3 win to knock out Texas A&M Tuesday afternoon ended up becoming surprisingly lopsided. The Bears, as they were in the Houston Regional, were on the verge of elimination after losing their College World Series opener to No. 1 Virginia on Sunday.

And, like a college student scrambling to finish that paper due in five hours, Cal came through again when it needed to.

Here’s another look at some key moments.

Porter Carries the Load

Freshman Kyle Porter came through once before with a huge performance in the Houston Regional, three-hitting Baylor and striking out nine to help Cal to an 8-0 win.

With lefty ace Justin Jones still sidelined by a tweaked bicep, Porter filled in admirably, showing off plenty of poise on the biggest stage in college baseball. Slotted into another elimination game, the Freshman All-American shrugged off the home run he gave up and had only one shaky inning in his six-frame start. The southpaw retired 11 of 13 batters through one stretch, and logged four strikeouts to one walk.

“I don’t think anyone on the coaching staff is surprised he was capable of doing that,” coach David Esquer said.

Juniors Erik Johnson and Dixon Anderson — Thursday’s likely starter in the team’s rematch against Virginia — were taken in the second and ninth rounds of this year’s MLB Draft. If they both leave as expected, that leaves Jones as the only returning member of the weekend rotation. Porter’s precocious performance makes the future that much more encouraging.

The Big Spot

Esquer has often talked about coming through in “the big spot” this season. After the Aggies’ Adam Smith opened up the scoring with a solo shot into the left field dugout, the Bears did that and more.

To lead off the top of the fifth, right fielder Chad Bunting reached first base when a ball was thrown high over first base, and made just about the widest turn you’ll ever see before sliding in safely at second. Center fielder Darrel Matthews singled immediately after to put runners on the corners for Cal.

With no outs, this was one of the best scoring opportunities the Bears had seen all year. They didn’t squander it. Freshman Derek Campbell, one of the heroes of the Super Regional, singled and reached second on an error to give Cal the 2-1 lead; a sac bunt moved him to third.

Up next was Pac-10 Player of the Year Tony Renda, who was still stuck at DH with a strained groin. He sent a fly ball high into shallow right — into the glove of Tyler Naquin, the Aggies’ biggest arm. Campbell danced a little, hesitant about whether or not he could reach home safely. He got the call from third base coach Tony Arnerich and took off.

“In the back of my head, I’ll be honest with you, I remember in the pregame saying, ‘This guy’s got a gun. This guy’s got a gun,'” Campbell said. “So I’m just running as fast as I can, and I don’t think twice about it.”

The freshman slid in, blessed with the good fortune as Naquin made a rare miss on the throw. If he had been on target, the inning ends and the entire complexion of the game changes.

“You give him the ball seven more times in that same spot, and I guarantee you he throws him out,” A&M coach Rob Childress said.

Extra Innings

—Closer Matt Flemer pitched a season-high three innings against the Aggies. He struck out five, also a season-high, to earn his sixth save of the season. The junior was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 19th round.

The win snaps Cal’s six-game losing streak in the CWS. Their last appearance in Omaha was in 1992; their last victory took place in 1980. Left fielder Austin Booker’s father, former Major Leaguer Rod Booker, played on that 1980 squad.

—Texas and Texas A&M are the first two teams out, with the Longhorns being knocked out by North Carolina on Monday. The last time two teams from the same state tied for seventh was 2006, when it happened to Georgia and Georgia Tech.