Once again, Cal stays alive

June, 21, 2011

OMAHA, Neb. -- Never back a bear into the corner.

California, the baseball program axed by its own university less than a year ago, extended an unlikely postseason run on Tuesday with a 7-3 win over Texas A&M at TD Ameritrade Park. The Bears, behind freshman pitcher Kyle Porter, remain alive in the College World Series to face South Carolina or Virginia on Thursday.

"People talk about us being a Cinderella story," said freshman second baseman Derek Campbell, who contributed a pair of run-scoring hits in Cal's three-run fifth and sixth innings. "I like to think we knew we would be here."

Nobody else knew.

In fact, by now, most everyone figured Dave Esquer's baseball program would be dead and buried.

An 11th-hour, fund-raising effort -- completed in April -- produced $9 million to save the sport at Cal. Now the Bears have earned their first win at the CWS since 1980.

The timing is no coincidence, according to Esquer and his players.

"The elimination game feels like nothing," Porter said. "We're fighters."

Porter, a lanky left-hander from El Dorado Hills, Calif., lasted six innings and earned his sixth win without a loss this season. In only his fourth start, he surrendered a solo homer to Adam Smith in the fourth inning, but Cal backed him by scoring six against A&M starter Michael Wacha over the next two frames.

That's how it happened all season for Cal, which overcame five losses in six games to end the regular season, then needed four straight wins at the Houston Regional before losing ace pitcher Justin Jones to an arm injury in the super regionals against Dallas Baptist.

Esquer, in his 12th year at Cal, was named national coach of the year on Tuesday.

"I've never been so proud to be around 35 guys in our program who haven't wavered," Esquer said. "We've come back from the dead in many games, and it just symbolizes who we are. They won't give up. No one gives up in our program."

Don't look now, but these Bears may fast become the darlings of Omaha as the city and fans of the CWS grasp for something familiar in a year of change. This event moved across town from Rosenblatt Stadium into a fancy new park, and so much seems different.

Nothing energizes the CWS like an underdog.

Cal got big hits in the fifth inning from center fielder Darrell Matthews and Campbell. A pair of Texas A&M errors contributed to the rally, and Campbell scored a short fly to right field with one out, testing the strong arm of A&M's Tyler Naquin.

"We knew that we were going to have to try to take the game from them a little bit," Esquer said. "We weren't going to be able to play passive and beat a good team like Texas A&M. We were going to have to maybe take some chances, put some guys in motion and get a big hit when necessary."

Big hits continued in the sixth inning -- a double by Mitch Delfino and RBI singles from Chad Bunting and Campbell.

The Aggies waited too long to pull Wacha, who surrendered four earned runs on nine hits in 6 ⅔ innings.

"We just didn't make pitches," A&M coach Rob Childress said. "If we did, Cal didn't miss them. Those guys grinded out at-bats, got big hits."

Closer Matt Flemer handled the final three innings for Cal.

A&M joined Big 12 rival Texas as the lone winless teams at this CWS. The Aggies went 11 innings without scoring a run after their four-run first Sunday against South Carolina.

"There's not a guy in our dugout that doesn't wish we had played better collectively," Childress said. "But again, credit goes to South Carolina and California."

Cal moves forward, likely without Jones, who won a team-high nine games. Right-handed junior Dixon Anderson will start on the mound Thursday, Esquer said.

It's another elimination game.

The Bears need three more wins to reach the championship series.

Still backed into that corner.

"We've been down all year," said Cal sophomore Tony Renda, the Pac-10 player of the year who's fighting a quad injury. "We've had to fight back. We were down as a program. "We know the tasks and what we need to do."

Mitch Sherman is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

He can be reached at mshermanespn@gmail.com. Follow Mitch Sherman on Twitter: @mitchsherman

Mitch Sherman

ESPN Staff Writer



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