If you have heard of the RPI, or rating percentage index, you most likely became acquainted with the concept when making a March Madness bracket. A ranking of every team in the country based on performance and schedule difficulty, the RPI plays a big part in determining who gets a spot at college baseball regionals.
While it wasn’t much of a buzzword at the beginning of the season, Cal baseball (24-15) has become invested in its RPI as the postseason looms closer. For a team that wasn’t even in tournament contention as of a couple weeks ago, Cal now sits at No. 40 and is now projected to go dancing for the first time since 2015.
The Bears continued to rise in the RPI this past extended weekend, taking two of three from Oregon and beating No. 25 BYU on Monday.
“That was tough, but for us to bounce out of it and get three, especially against two really good teams we played this weekend, is really important for us moving into the back end of the season,” said head coach Mike Neu.
Cal started the series against Oregon with a near disaster, blowing its 6-3 lead in the 8th inning when freshman Sean Sullivan gave up four earned runs, allowing the Ducks to take a 7-6 lead.
In the bottom of the ninth, sophomore Quentin Selma stepped up to the plate and smacked a dinger to right field. With the game tied at 7-7, junior Korey Lee nailed the ball high over the head of the Ducks left fielder to seal the Bears’ 8-7 win with his walk-off homer.
And here's the complete clip of Korey Lee's walk-off from the time he launched it. #GoBears #CalBaseball #Can'tWatchItEnough pic.twitter.com/wSBqtXYdnK
— Cal Baseball (@CalBaseball) April 27, 2019
“We had the chance to face one of the premier closers in the country in a game where we had the lead and just couldn’t hold on to it,” Neu said. “And then to come back and win it, it was just a huge win on a Friday to give us some momentum going into (Saturday).”
In their second game, the Bears did indeed keep their energy going and started the game with a bang, not allowing the Ducks to score until they racked up eight runs en route to a 10-5 victory.
While the offense shined, the credit goes to junior Jared Horn (1.71 ERA), who allowed two earned runs over eight innings, marking his fourth consecutive start pitching at least eight innings.
“I just try to throw strike one. Maybe hitters get themselves out early in the count so I can get my pitch count down,” Horn said. “Just keeping my confidence up and knowing that if I gave up a couple runs, my offense would score runs behind me to pick me up, or defense would make a great play behind me.”
The three otherwise inconsequential walks that freshman Jack Hinrichsen allowed in the ninth inning set the tone for a 12-4 Sunday loss in which Cal walked five and hit five batters.
While there was no offensive action in the first five innings, Oregon opened the floodgates in the top of the fifth. Freshman Nick Proctor inherited a bases-loaded situation, and on his first pitch of the game, he gave up a grand slam that boosted Oregon to a 7-0 lead.
“When you give them that many free base runners, the one hit can really crush you, and that’s what happened,” Neu said. “We gave them too much, and they capitalized on it.”
The very next day, however, the Bears had a chance at redemption in a nonconference game against BYU, redeeming themselves with a 3-2 win. Freshman Sam Stoutenborough pitched 5.1 innings in his first official start for Cal and only allowed two earned runs, while Sullivan, Rogelio Reyes, Carson Olson and Arman Sabouri slammed the door in relief.
Dramatically decreasing their RPI since the UCLA series, the Bears have gone from playoff hopefuls to serious contenders.