STANFORD, Calif. — Friday night’s 18-inning marathon at Sunken Diamond was emblematic of last year’s Cal baseball team.
A combination of gritty at-bats, a lively clubhouse and a never-say-die attitude helped the Bears outlast No. 14 Stanford, 5-4, in the nearly six-hour contest. Cal (29-25, 12-18 in the Pac-12) followed it up with a 15-5 pounding of the No. 14 Cardinal (38-16, 18-12) on Saturday to claim the series.
Sunday’s performance, however, was far more representative of this year’s squad. Inconsistent pitching early, three errors and a lack of timely hitting doomed the Bears, who faced a must-win situation to have a decent shot at the postseason.
After giving up a three-run homer in the bottom of the second for a 3-1 deficit, the magic ran out and Cal couldn’t muster a comeback, ultimately falling, 5-3. The Bears failed to make the 64-team playoff field on Monday, ending their season prematurely a year after advancing to the College World Series.
“I don’t think that’s in the cards for us right now,” said Cal coach David Esquer. “We’ve been a perennial playoff team … It hurts and it stings because that becomes your expectation.”
Third baseman Mitch Delfino hit a bomb in the second inning to put Cal up, 1-0. Needing a shutdown inning, starter Justin Jones got himself in trouble by walking two batters. As Jake Stewart’s blast sailed over the left field fence for three runs, the tide shifted.
Twice the Bears pulled within a run, but each time Stanford countered with a run of its own in the bottom half of the inning. Cal couldn’t get into any offensive groove as Stanford starter Stephen Piscotty dealt seven strong innings and allowed just four hits.
“It’s just one of those days in baseball,” Esquer said. “(Balls) just weren’t finding that seam we found when we hit consecutive hits yesterday.”
The game had some nice moments for some seniors likely playing their final game. Senior Matt Flemer, who pitched a solid 7 2/3 innings on Friday, begged Esquer to get in the game. Last season’s closer got his wish, tossing a scoreless seventh and eighth and hitting his typical high-80s velocity despite pitching on one day’s rest.
“It was one of those things where you can’t worry about how you feel because you need to win,” Flemer said. “I felt like it was coming out pretty good … I knew I was going to feel good, and I was going to be able to get in and help get some outs.”
After shaky outings from Jones and Kyle Porter, senior Joey Donofrio came in to steady the ship for Cal in the fifth. The Los Gatos, Calif., native struck out four and allowed just two hits.
Senior catcher Chadd Krist, Cal’s all-time program leader in doubles, knocked his 65th and final two-bagger in the fourth.
Senior outfielder Chad Bunting made a remarkable diving catch on the warning track in the first inning, saving two runs. Senior outfielder Danny Oh extended his seven-game hitting streak and logged an RBI with a sacrifice fly. Oh, who has been in and out of the lineup this season, caught fire late to finish a blistering 18-for-29.
“If this is it, this is the series I’d want to go out on,” Flemer said. “That 18-inning game defined the four years I’ve been here … That’s a game that’s going to stick in my mind forever.”