Cal baseball can be described with one word: determined. Despite a record below .500, a conference record of 12-18 and a series loss to Washington State at home — a team that didn’t even qualify for the NCAA tournament — the Bears punched their ticket to the Pac-12 baseball tournament. Cal outscored No. 24 Washington 16-11 Saturday afternoon, clinching a series win this past weekend.
The Bears secured the No. 9 seed, placing them in Pool A with No. 1 Stanford and No. 6 Oregon. This comes after the Pac-12 expanded the tournament to nine teams from the original eight-team format this season.
The new tournament format allows each team to play a game against the two opposing teams in its pool. The winner of each pool gets an automatic entry to the semifinals, with the final spot being awarded to a wild card team with the best record from the three pools. Any tiebreakers will be awarded to the higher-seeded team, meaning that last place Cal will most likely need to win both pool games to advance.
The Bears begin their tournament action Tuesday night as they face off against Oregon. The Ducks are coming off a series win against Utah to end the regular season with an impressive 33-20 overall record and a conference record of 16-14.
Despite an overall strong regular season, the Ducks have much to prove. Oregon is currently on a cold streak after going 3-8 in its last 11 games, with two of those three wins coming this past weekend against the Utes, the lowest-ranked Pac-12 team.
The two teams last met in late April in Berkeley. The Ducks, then ranked 23rd in the country, took the series, 2-1. The Bears, however, were close to forcing extra innings in the series opener, barely losing after a throwing error by Cal shortstop Carson Crawford allowed Oregon’s Drew Cowley to score the go-ahead run, 5-4.
Cowley led the Ducks’ offense in hits, home runs and RBIs. He cumulatively went .385 against the Utes pitching and drove in seven runs throughout the weekend. He had the same average in the series against Cal but only drove in three runs.
After the matchup against Oregon, the Bears will return Wednesday night to play their second pool game against cross-Bay rival and reigning Pac-12 champion Stanford.
Both sides met five times this season, with the Cardinal winning four games to take the season series. Cal barely lost its last matchup on April 25, coming away 6-5 at Sunken Diamond. Unlike the struggling Ducks, Stanford has consistently remained hot since last facing Cal, going 11-2 in the span.
For a team consistently placing top-five in the nation in multiple polls and boasting an overall and conference record of 37-14 and 23-7, respectively, Stanford has struggled to put Cal away this year, only beating the blue and gold by more than two runs once this season.
Despite the great run since late April, Stanford pitching has struggled. Almost half of its players have an ERA above 8.00 and rank last in multiple categories among Pool A teams.
Stanford’s hitting, on the other hand, leads the pool in almost every category. Not only are the Cardinal the only Pool A team with a team batting average above .300, but they also have the highest OPS at .947, slugging percentage of .545, the most runs scored with 437 and have the most RBIs, driving in 419.
Pitching will be crucial for Cal to advance into the semifinals, with the Bears’ pitching staff only leading the pool in earned runs and walks, at 269 and 198, respectively.
All tournament games will take place at Scottsdale Stadium in Arizona, the spring training facility of the San Francisco Giants. Pool A games will all start at 7 p.m. The semifinals will be Friday, May 26, with the championship game held the next day at 7 p.m.