Two outs away. That’s how close the Cal baseball team was to advancing out of the College Station Regional in the NCAA tournament Sunday night. The Bears (36-21) had one out in the ninth with a one-run lead against regional No. 1 seed Texas A&M (49-12). They were so close to eliminating and upsetting the Aggies, they could taste it.
That was Sunday. Now, on Tuesday, Cal is out of the postseason.
Because they failed to close out A&M, the Bears found themselves in a winner-take-all third game Monday night. In front of more than 6,500 maroon-clad fans in College Station, Texas, the Bears’ dreams of recreating their Cinderella-like 2011 run to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, were dashed.
Cal fell, 3-1, to the Aggies on Monday. This was the Bears’ second straight loss to a team they defeated only two days prior. The Bears, once in command in the double-elimination regional, pulled out all the stops to advance, yet it was not enough. In a game where Cal used seven pitchers — three of them starters — the A&M offense was still able to squeak out enough runs to send the Bears home packing.
Given the importance of the final game, both squads threw out their best pitchers on two days rest. But the Bears used ace Daulton Jefferies for only one inning, while the Aggies, with questionable pitching to begin the tiring series, gave the ball to ace Matt Kent, who went seven innings.
Freshman Jeff Bain, who came in to relieve Jefferies, gave up the first run of the contest. In the bottom of the second, A&M catcher Michael Barash lined a sacrifice fly to center field that had enough distance to put the Aggies up, 1-0.
Coach David Esquer allowed Bain one more inning before turning to junior Ryan Mason and sophomore Alex Schick to try to keep the deficit at one run. Meanwhile, Kent was piecing together a gutsy performance for the Aggies, silencing the Cal bats until late in the game.
Kent’s exhaustion would eventually prove too much, however, as Bears senior Chris Paul launched a game-tying solo shot in the top of the seventh. As Paul rounded the base, Kent wiped the sweat off his head with the brim of his cap, dejection evident on his face. It was 1-1 again, and all watching had a strong sense of deja vu given the low-scoring, tight nature of the previous two games.
But the tie would not last long. In the bottom of the seventh, the Aggies responded behind some patient hitting. Schick yielded two leadoff walks before senior Chris Muse-Fisher replaced him. Barash laid down a bunt to put two runners into scoring position with only one out. It would take another sac fly off the bat of shortstop Blake Allemand to push A&M back into the lead, 2-1.
Suddenly, it was desperation time for the Bears, and the offense began to panic. In the top of the eighth, Cal’s batters went three up, three down. To make the situation even more dire, the Aggies scored an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth to take a 3-1 lead into the final frame.
In their last at-bats, the Bears’ first two batters made little more than a whimper, both outs. Cal’s season came down to the bat of third baseman Lucas Erceg. He hit a harmless grounder to the first baseman to bring Cal’s run to a close.
After the out, the Aggies rushed the mound in jubilation, understanding the difficulty of the uphill battle they had faced since losing the first time around to the Bears. Meanwhile, Cal looked on in shock from its dugout, remembering just how close it had come.
Austin Crochetiere covers baseball. Contact him at [email protected].