Cal Dispatches A&M, Keeps Magic Season Alive
Granted, that's a motto the California baseball team latched onto several months ago and has embraced wholeheartedly as a magical NCAA Tournament journey has unfolded.
But that fitting phrase's meaning took on new breadth Tuesday when the Bears kept a pulse at the 2011 College World Series.
Sparked by freshman pitcher Kyle Porter's gritty start and a batting order that suddenly kicked into high gear, Cal barreled past Texas A&M 7-3 at TD Ameritrade Park and extended the season by at least one more game.
The Bears ended a six-game, 31-year CWS losing streak and extended A&M's skid in Omaha to six games dating back to 1993.
Cal (38-22) will face the loser of Tuesday's later game between South Carolina and Virginia at 6 p.m. Thursday.
To get there, the Bears finally found a way to rev up their offense and leaned on Porter and then reliever Matt Flemer to keep the Aggies (47-22) from ever staging a huge comeback.
After managing only six hits against Virginia in a 4-1 first-round loss, Cal stayed in a malaise for the first four frames against A&M's Michael Wacha. Tony Renda's line-drive single in the third inning was all the Bears could scrounge up in its first 15 plate appearances, setting the stage for another have-to-grind-it-out ending.
Texas A&M didn't fare much better against Porter until third baseman Adam Smith jacked a 1-and-0 offering into the left-field bullpen with two outs in the fourth frame to put Cal in a 1-0 hole. If that rattled Porter, he didn't show it. He got Kevin Gonzales on a weak infield popup to end the inning.
"It didn't affect me at all," Porter said. "The guy put a good swing on it and hammered the ball out of the park. I know with the offense that I had behind me that one run wasn't going to win the game."
It wasn't and Cal quickly rendered Smith's homer a fading memory in the fifth inning.
In comeback mode again, the Bears came out swinging. Chad Bunting started the at-bat by reaching on an error and suddenly Cal had life.
Darrel Matthews roped a single to left-center field and Bunting scooted to third base. Derek Campbell – in the lineup at second base because Renda is still ailing from a quad injury and is relegated to DH duties – poked an RBI single to center field that chased Bunting home with the tying run.
A&M center fielder Krey Bratsen bobbled the ball and that permitted Matthews to race around with the go-ahead run and Campbell to advance to second. Austin Booker laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to get Campbell to third base and he tagged on Renda's shallow fly ball to Aggies' cannon-armed right fielder Tyler Naquin.
Naquin circled the ball and uncorked a throw that sailed over everybody's heads at the plate, allowing Campbell to dash home for a 3-1 Bears' cushion.
Campbell said he wasn't all that sure about challenging Naquin's powerful arm, but he heard third-base coach Tony Arnerich urging him on.
"In the back of my head, I'll be honest with you, I remember in pregame saying, ‘This guy's got a gun, this guy's got a gun,' " Campbell said. "So I'm just running as fast as I can, and I don't think twice about it. I trusted my coach."
That aggressiveness was part of the Bears' game plan.
"We knew that we were going to have to try to take the game to them a little bit," Cal coach David Esquer said. "We weren't going to be able to play passive and beat a good team like Texas A&M. We were going to have to maybe take some chances, put some guys in motion and get a big hit when necessary. I think Tony just kind of sensed the moment."
Had the Aggies escaped that inning with only two runs and with some energy off of gunning down a runner at the plate, the game's complexion might've changed dramatically.
Instead, Cal got the bigger cushion and A&M had a little steeper climb back.
"It's one of the few times I haven't seen him be right on the money with the throw," Aggies coach Brad Childress said.
"It would have been a big momentum shift for us getting off the field that way."
Still with momentum firmly in their grasp, the Bears went for the kill the next inning.
Shortstop Marcus Semien whacked a leadoff single to left field and with one out, Mitch Delfino pumped an RBI double to right-center to stretch the lead to 4-1. Bunting punched a base hit to left field for another run and he scored when Campbell produced the first of his two run-scoring singles.
The back-to-back three-run innings were reminiscent of Cal's six-game winning streak to reach the CWS when it averaged eight runs a game. The Bears' mid-game resurgence Tuesday came after a spirited pep talk from Esquer in the dugout, a reminder about what got them to Omaha.
By game's end, every starter but Booker and Chadd Krist had a hit for Cal and the RBIs were supplied by five different hitters. Eight of the Bears' nine hits came from the 5th-7th innings and they were a combined 6-for-14 with runners on base (5-for-9 with them in scoring position) and a dismal 1-for-19 showing with runners on base against Virginia.
"I'm happy our guys kind of grinded it out, because that's kind of how we do it," Esquer said. "We don't do it easy. We had to catch ourselves in the middle of the ballgame there. I thought we were a little too excited, trying to make something happen that really wasn't there and didn't let the game come to us.
"But eventually we moved the runners along and came up with that big hit we've been looking for the last couple of days, and it came from a lot of different places. That kind of falls in line with how we have to do it as a team. It's not one guy and a three-run homer leading the charge. It's piece by piece with every player playing a role. "
That included Flemer, who stifled the A&M offense after its lone productive threat.
The Aggies touched up Porter for a pair of runs with three hits and an error in the sixth inning, closing within 6-3 when Brandon Wood dumped a two-out single into center field. Porter got Kenny Jackson on a called third strike to put quell that uprising, but A&M seemed to have a head of steam.
Not so much with Flemer taking over in the seventh.
He allowed one hit in each of the last three frames, but never to start an inning. He struck out five, including three-hole hitter Matt Juengel to end the seventh and two of the last three hitters in the ninth to notch his sixth save and halt the Aggies' season.
The loss was the end of a memorable ride for A&M that included sharing the Big 12 Conference regular-season crown with Texas, rallying to win the league tournament championship and winning decisive games in both the regional and Super Regional rounds.
"We've got a great team," said Childress, who guided the Aggies to Omaha for the first time since 1999. "We didn't play like we're capable of playing the two games we were here, but it's nobody's fault.
"I'm not disappointed in anybody. I'm disappointed for our guys that they didn't play better. There's not a guy in our dugout that doesn't wish we had played better collectively. But the credit goes to South Carolina and California."
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