Cal rides late surges, seeks revenge in Fort Worth

Josh Kahen/Staff

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When you first think of TCU and Cal squaring off, you might recall Cal football’s disastrous Cheez-It Bowl from 2018. Indeed, it was a game to forget for the blue and gold, who tossed five interceptions on the way to a painful 10-7 defeat.

The Horned Frogs, however, have a more recent — and arguably more devastating — history against the Bears on the baseball diamond. Last season, as the blue and gold chased a College World Series appearance behind a slew of dominant upperclassmen, TCU all but knocked Cal out of the running — delivering a crushing 13-2 loss in the NCAA Regionals.

It wasn’t the first time the two squads matched up: The Bears and the Horned Frogs have seen action four times in program history, all since 2017. Cal is 1-3 in these bouts.

Entering the rematch this season, circumstances have changed. After facing a tough three-loss road test against Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara in their opening weekend, the Bears bounced back for back-to-back victories heading into their Texas trip. In both wins, Cal recorded a combined 14 runs in the last three innings and the Bears are now poised to drop the chip off their shoulder.

“We’re just looking to go in and get a series win. Every series, we want to go in and win at least two out of three. Coming off these last two wins in a row, we’re in a good spot going into TCU, so I’m excited to see what the team will do,” said sophomore two-way standout Grant Holman.

Holman may have high hopes for his teammates, but he has a right to his own lofty goals. As a freshman last year, the RHP/utility logged 37 starts, primarily on the mound and as a designated hitter, and recorded 24 RBIs on a .272 batting average.

This spring he has already found a new rhythm, combining play at first base with continued appearances on the bump. In 11 2/3 innings of work, the sophomore has dealt eight strikeouts and just 2 walks while recording a .190 opposing batting average on a 3.86 ERA.

At the dish, Holman brought in the go-ahead run against Stanford on Feb. 25, propelling his 2020 average to .323. He has adjusted his focus in practice to keep sights on his two-way talent.

“(I’ve been) paying attention to the little things. The coaches have done a really good job helping me balance the whole hitting and pitching thing. I think just managing the workload and going about it in the right way,” Holman said.

The righty is slated to start in Saturday’s matchup with TCU, and fellow sophomore RHP Sam Stoutenborough is scheduled to start Friday. The return of righty Sean Sullivan, who clutched the most saves of any Cal reliever in 2019, is highly anticipated in the weeks to come. Needless to say, with Sullivan’s potential to start and budding sophomore talent abounding, the blue and gold’s pitching staff will be bolstered as the campaign continues.

“It’ll help getting one of our starters back because then we just won’t be trying to staff two games a weekend — that’s what we’ve been trying to do. So we got multiple guys throwing today and on Sunday and that could make it really difficult,” said Cal head coach Mike Neu. “I think moving forward we’ll be a little more set, which would be nice.”

Offensively, the Bears are also beginning to exude confidence. Darren Baker currently leads the Pac-12 in runs scored, notching 12 in his first eight starts. Furthermore, junior slugger Quentin Selma was named the Pac-12 Player of the Week for his four-game .407 batting average and 11 RBIs versus St. John’s and UC Santa Barbara.

Cal will face a particularly difficult weekend at the plate, however, as TCU boasts the 30th-lowest team ERA in the nation, allowing just 2.28 on average.

Regardless, the Bears are prepped to flip their fortune from last year’s regional.

“You know, it’s a tough place to play — they do a good job at their home field and they’re well-coached, so it’ll be a really good test for us,” Neu said. “The goal is to go in there and win the series. So I’m excited to see how we play out there.”

Cal (3-5) and TCU (7-1) will kick off their three-game set at 4:30 p.m. Friday in Fort Worth. Although Saturday’s bout was originally scheduled to start at 11 a.m., TCU announced Thursday that first pitch will shift to 1 p.m.

Ethan Waters is an assistant sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @ewate1.