Cal’s rollercoaster season included a plan by the university’s administration to dismantle the program, a group of alumni pooling $9.6 million to save the Bears from extinction, a stirring come-from-behind victory in regional play – one of five straight wins facing elimination – and the program’s first berth in the CWS since 1992.
Once in Omaha, California claimed a 7-3 victory against Texas A&M, between two losses to the top-seeded Cavaliers.
“Obviously we're proud to be one of the eight teams in the College World Series,” Bears coach David Esquer said after his team’s magical run ended.
Along the way, Esquer and his players claimed a spot as media darlings. Thursday night’s broadcast featured several Cal players hamming it up in a music video with CWS fans outside TD Ameritrade Park.
“We'll never forget this. This is a great experience for not only myself but for my team. … To experience this with your best friends, this is an experience that they'll never forget.”
In the rawness of the immediate afterglow, the Bear players were understandably down about the abrupt end of their season.
Not so much that they didn’t grasp the magnitude of what they accomplished, though.
“Everybody has the same goal of getting to Omaha, and we got here,” sophomore Tony Renda said. “So we achieved that goal, which is great, and being here was great, and I'll never forget it.
“One of the first things I thought was: ‘Is it really over?’ I couldn't really believe it. And the second thought was: ‘Let's win it next year.’”
Added catcher Chadd Krist, “We’re disappointed, but we’ve got to celebrate the season a little bit, too.”
The CWS semifinals are set for Friday.
Vanderbilt (54-11) and Florida (52-17) meet at 1 p.m., the sixth matchup this season between the Commodores and Gators. South Carolina (52-14) and Virginia (56-11) will follow at 6 p.m., the second time the Gamecocks and Cavaliers will play this week.
If Vandy beats Florida or Virginia knocks off South Carolina, there will be a game or two games on Saturday. If there is just one necessary game it would be played at 6 p.m.
With Virginia’s victory, four of the teams that earned the eight national seeds when the NCAA Tournament field was selected are alive in the semifinals.
That’s just the third time that’s happened in the last 13 years (1999 and 2005 were the others). It also means a top-eight seed will be crowned the national champion next week for only the second time since 2004, joining LSU’s 2009 national title team.
The four remaining teams are also the winningest programs in the country this season: Virginia with 56, Vanderbilt with 54 and South Carolina and Florida with 52 victories apiece.
- Creighton’s 1991 CWS team was honored before the game. Former Blue Jays’ coach Jim Hendry, now the Chicago Cubs General Manager, and most of the players were on hand, including Cavaliers coach Brian O’Connor, who lined up with his former teammates to be introduced.
- Virginia’s eight runs and seven-run margin of victory were both high-water marks in the 10 games of the CWS so far. The last time nobody scored at least 10 runs in the series was 2005.
- Cal gave up eight runs or more for only the fourth time this season.
- Cavaliers second baseman Keith Werman picked up his 25th and 26th sacrifice bunts of the season, which leads the country and is the fifth best total in NCAA history.
- The Bears were retired in order four times Thursday night after going 1-2-3 only five times in 16 innings in their first two CWS games – just once in the previous meeting with UVa.
- Thursday’s crowd of 25,833 was the largest of the 10 games of this year’s CWS and the largest gathering to ever see Virginia or Cal play.