Underdog stories are always the ones that garner the most attention and support. The gentle pull of the heart strings one feels watching an unlikely victor succeed is like none other. If the Bears see any success in this first-ever Pac-12 baseball tournament, it will be the greatest underdog story Cal fans would have experienced in recent years. The odds of this happening, though, are extremely slim.
This concluding week of May, the Bears will jet off to Scottsdale, Arizona to participate in the inaugural Pac-12 tournament. The blue and gold will kick-off the tournament Wednesday evening against third seed UCLA.
Though players and fans alike are no doubt experiencing excitement about the brand new tournament, they must heed caution and stay grounded in reality. Entering the tournament as the sixth seed, the Bears have an uphill battle if they want to be the first-ever champions of the Pac-12 baseball tournament.
No. 20 UCLA is set to come out swinging with the confidence of having previously defeated the Bears 2-1 in last month’s conference series. Not all hope is lost for the Bears, however, as the team managed to pick up an 8-3 win in that series opener.
Beyond that, the blue and gold are oozing with pride as several members just picked up conference honors. Notably, making the Pac-12 first team was star slugger Dylan Beavers, standout freshman Caleb Lomavita and the consistent first baseman Nathan Martorella. Also being recognized was shortstop Keshawn Ogans, who received an honorable mention.
Cal is not the only team to have racked up conference honors, however. UCLA managed six recognitions of its own, including five players to the All-Conference team and one player to the All-Defensive team.
The two sides are on par in their conference recognition and hold records not too far off from each other. This, paired with the blue and gold’s early victory over the Bruins, should make for an intense opening match in which a focused performance will be needed.
Unfortunately for the Bears, the Bruins are the clear favorites heading into the match. A loss in the opening match, however, will not be the end of the line for Cal.
Few teams participating mean the tournament bracket is a little unconventional in that each team is guaranteed two games with a double-elimination format. The losers of the four opening matches will have the opportunity to fight to stay alive while the victors face off Thursday to see who will advance.
Win or die is the typical mindset coming into tournaments like these but the Pac-12 is offering its teams some space to warm up in initial competitions. Win or lose, the blue and gold will face either Oregon State or Washington — both of which they picked up a win over, having won the series against the latter this season.
Remaining undefeated will still be the Bears’ best course of action, as those who prove victorious on the second day of the tournament get a rest day on Friday while the losers face off. This is a tall order of business for a Cal side that has failed to sweep any of the three teams in its division, but is not impossible as it rides the high of a six game win streak entering the tournament.
A lackluster season proved to be the Bears’ holy grail, as it helped them escape having to face the likes of No. 3 Stanford and historically strong Arizona.
Will the blue and gold have their Cinderella story moment or will this be just another disappointing tournament appearance from a Cal team? Fans looking to find out can watch the Bears’ opening match, and every game except the championship (which will be on ESPN2), on the Pac-12 Network.
Amber Soto covers baseball. Contact her at [email protected].