The Aggies downed the Bears 3-1 on Monday night in the College Station Regional finale, earning a trip to the Super Regionals after what both Childress and Cal head coach David Esquer called “a heavyweight fight.”
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Dave, and the job that he’s done,” Childress said. “We had the opportunity to play them in 2011, and always have had an awful lot of respect for him, but going through that year, and I’m sure everything that he went through with his team and his players, not just trying to coach them and win games, but also trying to look out for their best interests and guide them through that, to get that program back to where it is right now is something special, and he should be recognized for that.”
[ANALYSIS: After Regional Showing, Bears Poised For Big 2016]
Over three games, the two teams – who played in the 2011 College World Series after the Cal program was cut, and then reinstated following a $10 million fundraising effort -- played 35 innings, and wound up being separated by two runs, and two hits (Cal had 29, A&M had 31).
“Disappointed to lose. We had high expectations, and there’s no moral victory on our club,” said Esquer. “We wanted real victory. We didn’t get that, but in leaving the Tournament, I’m very proud of our club.”
The X-factor on Monday was Aggies starter Matt Kent. After throwing 90 pitches in a 7.0-inning outing against No. 4-seed Texas Southern, Kent came back on short rest for the first time in his college career (he did it once in high school) to go another 7.0 innings, scattering five hits and allowing just one run – a game-tying solo shot by Bears senior first baseman Chris Paul in the top of the seventh.
“I’ve played against him two summers, out in the Northwoods League,” Paul said of Kent. “He has great command of all his pitches, threw them to both sides of the plate to extend [the zone] when he could, got strikes. He just kept throwing strikes and challenging us. He did a great job. Hat’s off to him. It’s a friendly battle. It’s always fun facing him. He’s very competitive, and very good. We built a friendship, played on the all-star team together out there, so we have a companionship. Hopefully, we get to play again in the future.”
Paul thought that his leadoff bomb – his career-best 10th of the season – would be the spark that Cal needed, but sophomore third baseman Lucas Erceg -- who led the team with 11 homers – lined out to center on the first pitch he saw.
Freshman designated hitter Brett Cumberland grounded a single to the right side, off first baseman Hunter Melton’s glove, and freshman shortstop Preston GrandPre cued a seeing-eye single under three Aggies gloves up the middle for a single of his own.
Junior Brian Celsi squared to bunt with a 3-1 count, and on the next pitch he saw, shortstop Blake Allemand began cheating over to the bag at second. With the runner going, Celsi banged a grounder to the left side of the bag, but Allemand was there, starting a 6-4-3 inning-ending double play.
“Leading off with a home run, then getting some more guys on base, we’ve got Brian Celsi up, first and third situation with a guy we trust to get it done, he hit the ball hard, but unfortunately in the wrong spot,” Paul said. “It killed the momentum a little bit, but we trust our guys, and we just came up a little bit short today.”
The Bears sent seven pitchers to the mound on Monday, including three of their four starters, and largely kept the explosive Texas A&M lineup in check, with Jeff Bain and Ryan Mason working out of jams in the second and fourth, respectively.
“We knew we were on fumes in the back end of the bullpen,” said Esquer. “We were just trying to ride a hot hand as long as we could.”
Sophomore righty Alex Schick -- who didn’t allow a hit in the fifth and sixth, tallying three strikeouts – walked the first two men he faced in the bottom of the seventh.
“Coach [Mike] Neu had a solid game plan on how he wanted to attack the innings,” Esquer said. “I have a lot of trust in how he was running the pitching. We did talk about maybe getting Schick out after the first walk. He’d gone two innings, and he was the one stretch guy. He was the guy Mike was thinking could stretch out a little bit if he got rolling. We thought we could get him back in the zone, and we couldn’t.”
Schick was lifted for lefty Chris Muse-Fisher, who’d already pitched twice already over the Regional weekend. The soft-tossing senior lefty served up a sacrifice bunt to catcher Michael Barash, and then a sacrifice fly to deep center by Allemand, tracked down on the dead run by Aaron Knapp. But, the ball was plenty deep to score right fielder Jonathan Moroney, breaking the 1-1 tie.
“They had two sacrifice flies to score two runs, and we had a couple opportunities,” Esquer said. “We had a first-and-third situation where we hit into a double play. Our guys are trying, and it just didn’t work out for us. Those are two turning points of the game. If we’re able to get a run, we take the lead. I would have liked to have seen how that would have been, with two innings to go.”
Freshman reliever Erik Martinez whiffed on a feed from Paul at first to lead off the bottom of the eighth, then surrendered a line-drive single to right by left fielder Logan Taylor, and a one-out RBI single up the middle by Melton to give the Aggies some much-needed insurance.
“We had to go pitch-for-pitch with their guys,” said Childress. “We’re just very, very fortunate … We had [Blake] Kopetsky hot down there, but once we got that jug around there, we allowed Kyle [Simonds] to go back out there. We just didn’t want to go into the ninth inning with three pitchers. We wanted to go out there and try to get through it with one pitcher, instead of trying to match up. That last run in the eighth inning was really big.”
Simonds tossed the final 2.0 innings, retiring Cal in order in each frame, including catcher Mitchell Kranson to lead off the ninth. Kranson went hitless for the first time in the Regional.
“We told him, ‘Make the catcher beat us to left field,’” Childress said. “Kyle’s got that great sinker running away, and we tried our best to stay away from him. We wanted him to beat us to left field at that point, and we were very fortunate to get him out. I thought he set up very well for the hitter behind him.”
Kranson, Paul, right fielder Devin Pearson and Mason were named to the All-Regional team.
Stay tuned for analysis of the 2015 season, and what you can expect in 2016.