Cal bets the Farm, earns first series victory over No. 15 Stanford in 7 years

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Stanford may be known as “the Farm” by many Bay Area locals, but you’d be hard-pressed to find many animals on campus larger than the particularly obese squirrels overfed by students. Perhaps the only other creatures on the Farm are the underdogs that frequent Klein Field — No. 15 Stanford is rarely overwhelmed by those that visit, evident from its 13-8 conference record without a home series loss.

The Bears have likewise hosted plenty of foes in their own den just across the Bay, but none are quite so unwelcome as the archrival Cardinal. Cal was slated for an uphill battle against highly ranked Stanford last weekend, but in the comfort of Evans Diamond’s confines, the Bears entered the series as underdogs and left as top dogs.

When all was said and done, Cal rode off with its first Big Series win against the Cardinal since 2014. Stanford is the third highest-ranked Pac-12 team behind only No. 6 Oregon and No. 7 Arizona, and the conference series loss was the first of its kind this season for the Cardinal. The Bears improved to 12-12 in the conference for a .500 win percentage that is keeping the door to the postseason open just wide enough for Cal to eke through if it wins the final two conference series left on its schedule.

On Friday, Stanford won the first game of the weekend in commanding fashion thanks to pitcher Brendan Beck’s career-best 12 strikeout showing — the righty allowed only two runs over eight innings of work, and his pitching proved quite a hard row to hoe for Cal. Despite Cole Elvis’ and Quentin Selma’s solo shots off Beck, the Bears were unable to put their paws to the plow and fell to the Cardinal 9-2 on Friday evening.

“We do have some guys that haven’t played a lot especially in the conference, so it’s about them getting experience and understanding what it takes to be successful in this league when you’re starting to face some tougher pitching, some different pitch mixes and obviously being pitched a little differently with runners in scoring position,” said Cal head coach Mike Neu. “There’s some parts of this game at the higher level that become a little more difficult.”

But Cal took the bull by the horns Saturday in what was nothing short of a last-gasp chance to keep postseason hopes afloat. The Bears were down 4-3 with just three outs between them and a disappointing end to a promising season. Sophomore Nathan Martorella, who was 3-4 on the night, snuck a leadoff double through the defense. A single and a quintessential stolen base from Darren Baker put Steven Zobac at the plate with no outs and the bases loaded, and a scorching two-run single through center sent the winning runs home. The miraculous walk-off win Saturday was the Bears’ sixth of the season, and the barn burner forced a rubber match the Cardinal was hardly expecting.

The Bears went whole hog Sunday after Martorella and Baker once again loaded the bases, this time for senior Quentin Selma, whose knack for going yard paid off at a critical juncture in the game and season at large. Selma pulled a bomb to right field for a go-ahead grand slam in the fourth, cracking the game open for Cal to make hay while the sun was shining and peel ahead 8-1 by the end of the inning.

The bullpen proved priceless yet again as Cal’s pitching depth complemented its offensive heroics, with everyone from starters such as Grant Holman to closers such as Mitchell Scott combining their talents to stave off Stanford and seal the 9-5 win.

The nonconference matchup at Stanford on Monday slipped out of Cal’s control after an early lead devolved into five innings spent knotted at 6-6. After nine pitching rotations and 12 innings of donkey work, the Bears succumbed to a deep single by the Cardinal that scored its winning run and edged Cal 7-6.

“We have to get more comfortable in those uncomfortable situations,” Neu said. “I think we’ve been trying to do a little too much instead of allowing the game to come to us and just doing what we would normally do when you get a pitch to hit and put a good swing on it.”

Now three for three in series against ranked teams this spring, the Bears will have extra moxie and morale as they face a brutal final stretch of the season. The team’s next opponent is No. 18 UCLA followed by No. 6 Oregon to cap off the season, and Cal needs series victories against at least one team for a shot at making the postseason. All of its eggs are in one basket now, but hey — you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs first.

The series against UCLA will kick off Friday at 6 p.m. at Jackie Robinson Stadium.

Emily Ohman covers baseball. Contact her at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter @emilyohman34.