The last time No. 22 Cal baseball made the NCAA tournament was 2011. That year, the squad overcame the fiasco of the 2010 program cuts to make an unexpected run to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.
On Monday afternoon, the NCAA selection committee announced its field of 64, and the Bears (34-19, 18-12 in Pac-12) learned that they would be returning to the tournament for the first time since 2011. The program’s return to the postseason is a testament to the Bears’ strong season, but the manner in which the Bears finished the season was forgettable.
The Bears traveled up to Corvallis, Oregon, to face Oregon State last weekend, a series that served as a mere formality to end the 2015 season.
The Cal squad came in having all but clinched a spot in the 64 team field for the NCAA tournament. There was no pomp and circumstance, no big rival to send the team into the postseason.
The Bears played as if there were no stakes, dropping two out of three games to the Beavers (38-16-1, 19-10-1 in Pac-12). While on the surface it may seem as if the series loss holds little weight, it resulted in some things that may come back to bite Cal, most important of which is seeding in the tournament in Omaha.
The series loss dropped the Bears to third in the Pac-12 standings, behind the Beavers. Of no surprise, the Beavers earned themselves a two seed in their four-team regional, while the Bears got only a three seed in their part of the bracket. Cal is looking at perennial powerhouse TCU as the top seed in its region, while Oregon State would have to face the unknown, up-and-coming Dallas Baptist squad.
This series seemed unimportant but may prove to be the difference in both teams’ long-term aspirations.
It began Friday with a stellar pitcher’s duel. Cal starter Daulton Jefferies matched OSU’s Andre Moore pitch for pitch, both players mystifying the opposing offenses.
It took four innings before Cal’s Devin Pearson recorded the first hit of the game, while the first runs of the game did not come until the sixth, when the Beavers grabbed a 2-0 advantage. The Beavers built their lead up to 4-0 and then rode Moore’s season high 13 strikeouts and complete game to victory.
In the second game of the series, the Cal bats failed to show up, as an Oregon State pitcher was once again able to get the job done. The Beavers’ Drew Rasmussen threw a complete game shutout, silencing the Bears’ bats. In the end, it was an ugly 9-0 defeat for Cal, which was suddenly looking at its first series loss since its loss to UCLA on April 18.
Cal’s bats showed some life Sunday, especially the bat of third baseman Lucas Erceg. The sophomore went three for five with a two-run homer to untie things in the top of the fifth inning. The Bears would hold on to win, 7-3, and take the last game of the series.
Though the two losses stung, the Bears can still find solace in their third-place finish in the competitive Pac-12 conference. This was Cal’s best finish since the Bears finished third in 2001. But the sting may hurt even more in the coming weeks, when Cal and OSU take the fields in their respective regionals.
Austin Crochetiere covers baseball. Contact him at [email protected].