After a series win on the road against Washington secured a last-minute entrance into the Pac-12 baseball tournament, Cal baseball headed to Scottsdale Stadium in Arizona to compete as the ninth seed in Pool A against No. 1 Stanford and No. 6 Oregon.
Both games, the Bears had the lead — and both were blown. Despite the final results, it’s worth noting the uphill battle Mike Neu’s team had to face entering the tournament as the lowest-seeded team. The Bears were scheduled to face one of the hottest bats in the nation the day after playing Oregon with no rest. Tournament rules awarded tiebreakers to the higher-seeded team, meaning the only scenario Cal could advance is by winning both pool games.
To make matters worse, Tuesday night’s starter, sophomore pitcher Christian Becerra, left the game in the second inning due to shoulder discomfort, forcing Neu to call on his bullpen earlier than anticipated.
Sophomore pitcher and infielder Andres Galan, who mainly started games against non-conference opponents during the regular season, came in for Becerra and silenced the Ducks. The underclassman pitched an impressive 4.2 innings without allowing a run, limiting the Oregon offense to only five hits and three walks while accumulating several strike outs.
“We’re going to need that out of him next year and I’m super proud of him,” said sophomore catcher Caleb Lomavita. “Every time I see him get on the mound, I know that he’s going to give his best and I’m just comfortable back there catching him.”
As impressive as Galan was, so were his Oregon counterparts. After Cal’s early lead chased out freshman starter Grayson Grinsell, the scoring would end there for the blue and gold, as the Oregon bullpen controlled the narrative of the rest of the game. Lomavita’s single off junior relief pitcher Austin Anderson in the top of the fifth inning would be the only Cal hit until the ninth.
Heading into the bottom of the eighth inning, things were looking bright for the Bears. With the Stanford game in less than 24 hours, Cal had only used an efficient three pitchers and was six outs away from a win.
Instead, the Bears’ ongoing struggles with misplays and errors continued to haunt them, as Oregon senior left fielder Tanner Smith hit a fly ball to right field that popped in and out of fifth-year outfielder Kade Kretzschmar’s glove, advancing the tying and leading runners to third and second base, respectively. While the play was officially ruled a double, it was a play that could have been made, preventing two runners from reaching scoring position.
With still no outs, freshman designated hitter Drew Smith hit a routine groundball to sophomore infielder Carson Crawford at shortstop that he bobbled, tying the game. Had Crawford caught the ball, he could have gotten Tanner Smith out, because the runner at third retreated back while Tanner Smith tried to advance.
Had Kretzschmar caught the ball earlier and kept the runner at first, it would’ve been an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play. Instead, the next batter Jacob Walsh did his job, hitting a sacrifice fly and giving Oregon its first lead of the night.
What could have been a scoreless inning ended with the Bears on the losing end of the game.
“Some of the mistakes happened during a critical time in the game and it just ended up being a difference-maker,” Neu said. “At the end of the day, the guys just competed really hard and that was fun to see.”
After the loss to Oregon — knowing the team was out of the championship — the Bears faced Stanford. Wednesday night’s game saw Cal jump to a strong 5-2 lead after five innings against its cross-Bay rival and reigning Pac-12 champion Stanford, allowing just four hits to the Cardinal.
Stanford proved that its high rankings were no fluke, putting up six runs in two separate innings. Although the Bears were already eliminated from the tournament, they kept fighting, scoring four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to close the gap to 14-10.
Lomavita, who went 3-4 with a three-run home runs, credited the Cal pitchers for executing in the first half of the game, but acknowledged that it would take more to beat Stanford.
“We faced them about, what, five times, six times this year already. We knew their lineup like the back of our hand,” Lomavita said. “Our pitchers executed early, but we’re going to need to do a little better than that.”
Neu also commended Stanford’s accomplished reputation and his players. He acknowledged that his Bears were facing some weaknesses — weaknesses that the Cardinal took advantage of in order to secure the win.
“That’s a team that’s been to Omaha two years in a row and they continued to stay focused and put up some big runs and take advantage of us being a little bit depleted there,” Neu said. “I thought our guys came out with the right focus and the right energy and the right attitudes. We just weren’t able to get it done.”
Finishing off the season with a loss to Stanford, the Bears will now not take the diamond until next year. With mixed results, finishing with an overall record of 24-28 and a conference record of 12-18, the Bears should hope to iron out key issues in the offseason in order to come back ready to be a strong contender in the conference.