The Cal baseball team has staved off elimination on and off the field in 2011, and will be taking that resiliency into the school’s first appearance in the NCAA super regionals against Dallas Baptist at Santa Clara’s Schott Stadium beginning Saturday.
The Golden Bears (35-21) opened the season thinking it might be the school’s last. Now they’re in perhaps the most intriguing of this weekend’s eight best-of-three series — alive and well, thanks to a massive fundraising effort that recently reinstated the program.
“I’m so proud of this team,” Cal coach David Esquer told the Associated Press. “To see them experience and work hard and going through what we’ve gone through and to see them on the field and knowing that is what’s it all about, that’s rewarding as a coach.”
Cal advanced to the super regionals when Devon Rodriguez singled in the game-tying and winning runs as part of a four-run bottom of the ninth against Baylor to win 9-8 on Monday. Rodriguez, who is third on the team with 33 RBIs, was named the NCAA Houston Regional Most Outstanding Player.
One of Cal’s biggest strengths will be its ability to hit with runners in scoring position. The Golden Bears are hitting .315 in such situations, and senior leadoff hitter Austin Hooker is hitting a team-best .417 with runners in scoring position.
The offense needs to continue taking advantage of its opportunities because the defense has scuffled in recent games. Despite leading the Pac-10 with a .987 fielding percentage during conference play, Cal committed 12 errors in the four regional games last weekend.
Left-handed sophomore Justin Jones (8-6, 3.09 ERA) is the probable starter for Cal for Game 1 of the best-of-three series Saturday.
It will be Cal’s first meeting with No. 15 Dallas Baptist (42-18) in school history. Dallas Baptist brings in some serious power with four hitters with at least nine home runs, led by senior Jason Krizan, who has 10 home runs, 81 RBIs and a .419 batting average.
If the Golden Bears can collect two more wins, they would reach the school’s sixth College World Series and first since 1992. Cal has not won a College World Series since 1957.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
WHERE: Stephen Schott Stadium, Santa Clara
TV: ESPNU (Saturday-Sunday), ESPN2 (Monday)
COACHES: Dallas Baptist, Dan Heefner (145-83, fourth season). California, David Esquer (351-311-2, 12th season).
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Cal, OF Austin Booker (.313, 1, 24), RHP Matt Flemer (4-2, 2.14, 5 saves), RHP Erik Johnson (6-4, 2.91); Dallas Baptist, OF Landon Anderson (.358, 7, 58, 21 SBs)
Game 1: Saturday, 5 p.m.
Game 2: Sunday, 7 p.m
Game 3: Monday, 1 or 4 p.m. (if necessary)