If Sunday night proved anything, it was that No. 3 seed Cal (2-1 in regional play) and No. 1 seed Texas A&M (2-1) are extremely evenly matched. In fact, the game was decided by a mere inch.
On two occasions.
In the top of the 12th inning with two outs, the Aggies’ Nick Banks roped a single into center field. Catcher Mitchell Nau on second base and left fielder Logan Taylor on first began to run. Cal’s center fielder Aaron Knapp elected to throw to third base and let Nau score at home. Cal senior Chris Paul tagged out Taylor just as Nau crossed the plate, but the umpires awarded A&M the go-ahead run on a close call.
Then, in Cal’s last at-bats, Knapp tried to score from second on an infield single, getting caught in a rundown between third and home. After two throws, Knapp broke for home with no one in front of him, but Aggie third baseman Ronnie Gideon was in hot pursuit.
Both players dove, Gideon just barely applying the tag and sealing the 4-3 victory.
With the loss, the two teams will face each other once again tomorrow night, the winner advancing to the super regional. But after 26 innings between the two teams in two days, the squads have both scored five runs. They are evenly matched, but it will take a heroic performance in the last game to determine the winner.
Cal got on the board in the bottom of the first when Knapp caught A&M by surprise with a bunt single to lead off, then scored two batters later. But the Aggies responded when Cal starter Matt Ladrech left a ball over the plate and A&M second baseman Ryne Birk powered it over the right field wall, tying the game at 1-1.
The Aggies then took the lead in the top of the seventh on a controversial call, when the home umpire called a ball on a 0-2 pitch by Bears’ reliever Jeff Bain that seemed to go over the middle of the plate, keeping the at-bat alive for catcher Michael Barash. In the next pitch, Barash muscled a grounder up the middle for an RBI single and gave A&M a 2-1 lead.
Catcher Mitchell Kranson, the walk-off hero in game one between the two teams Saturday night, responded in a big way in the bottom half of the seventh. The junior blasted a one-run homer over the wall, close to where his game winner had landed the night before. Suddenly, it was 2-2.
But things got weird when Kranson, or El Gaucho, returned to the plate.
In the bottom of the eighth inning with one out, Paul popped a routine flyball to left field. But the left fielder lost the ball in the lights, allowing Paul to advance all the way to third. Kranson took advantage, getting just enough of the ball in the next at-bat to drive home Paul on a sac fly to push Cal ahead, 3-2, right before the Aggies’ last at-bats.
But the Bears would be denied to the bitter end. Texas A&M would shockingly tie the game at 3-3 off a pinch-hit double from Gideon. Once again, it would take extra innings to decide a game between the two teams.
Unfortunately for Cal, it fell just inches short and now plays one last win-and-advance game against the Aggies.
Austin Crochetiere covers baseball. Contact him at [email protected].