Cal baseball’s poor second half tarnishes postseason hopes

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The Cal baseball team will spend the rest of the summer in the way it hoped it wouldn’t have to: watching the postseason unfold from a fan’s perspective.

Despite capping off the regular season with a weekend series triumph on the road against Washington State, the Bears knew there would be a possibility that their year would stop there. They had their doubts confirmed Monday morning, as the NCAA released its field of 64 teams set to compete for a chance to win the top prize in college baseball. Cal head coach David Esquer’s squad was not on the list, while Pac-12 rivals Arizona, Arizona State, Utah and Washington made the cut.

“I thought we had a good case to make it, if we won one or two games away,“ said senior Brian Celsi, describing the news as heartbreaking and tough to swallow. “Unfortunately, it just didn’t go that way.”

The omission, however, can’t be perceived as a shock, after taking Cal’s poor form and results during the second half of the season into consideration.

After securing a sweep vs. UCLA on April 3 that epitomised the Bears’ dominance from February until that weekend series, the rest of the month yielded moments of frustration and disappointment. The Bears went on a downward spiral that saw them lose their following nine of 15 games in April. This period of bad results emphasized Cal’s trouble to win on the road, as it lost away series against Arizona, Arizona State and Oregon.

The stretch of bad outings can be attributed to the injuries that afflicted Esquer’s squad. But junior pitcher Daulton Jefferies’ injury hurt the Bears the most. Without Jefferies’ skills and leadership, the quality on the mound suffered. His absence allowed the opposition to capitalize on the rotation’s and bullpen’s poor pitching.

The inconsistent pitching placed a lot of pressure on the offense that struggled to get going. At times, it even found itself trying to mount late-inning comebacks, after the pitchers’ bad offerings allowed its adversaries to take control. But Cal’s batters often failed in their attempts, en route to narrowly dropping bouts that the Bears could have won.

“The rest of the team really tried taking some of the burden of losing some of that pitching,” Esquer said. “It was a bunch of really good kids with high character trying too hard. Some really heart-breaking losses, when you think of the Arizona loss and the Utah loss. There seemed to be no luck our way.”

Just when it seemed that Cal rediscovered its sharp form with a sweep against Northwestern last month, a home series loss vs. the Utes put the Bears’ postseason hopes in jeopardy. Esquer’s team ultimately failed to advance to earn a postseason run this week, despite winning its final series of the regular season.

“My heart broke to watch our team go through adversity after adversity and not play at full strength, yet play with the pride and the effort they played with, given whatever roadblock got in their way,” Esquer said. “I’m pretty proud with that fact. I wish the baseball gods were a little kinder to us.”

Manny Flores covers baseball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @manny_0.