When Texas took a 4-2 win Sunday in the NCAA baseball Super Regionals, it sent the Sun Devils to the sidelines, along with Oregon St. and Stanford, after both the Beavers and Cardinal were swept out Saturday. It left California as the only remaining Pac-10 team, and sure enough, the Golden Bears completed a two game sweep of Dallas Baptist, the other "where did they come from" entry in the Super Regionals, with a 6-2 win at their home away from home down the road in Santa Clara.
The Bears' surprising post season did a number of things, including sending at least one Pac-10 team to Omaha for the College World Series for the 15th. straight year, and raised more questions about the NCAA's seeding practices (more on that later), but mostly, it continued one of the sports stories of the year, never mind the Pac-10.
These are the same baseball Bears, the ones who won the first ever College World Series in 1947, who had their administration ax their program earlier this year, effective at the end of the season, only to have an outpouring of financial and political support raise over $9 million dollars (of a $10 mil target figure) to save the team.
Fortunately, sane heads prevailed, and the program was reinstated, sparing the Berzerkley administration the embarrassment of shutting down a team that reached their sports' elite 8.
The story is more incredible than that, though. Free to bail on the program and the institution without NCAA or other penalty once the decision to terminate the team was announced, instead of taking the day off as their coach suggested, the Bears' players unanimously decided they should practice that day.
And they soldered on most of the season, with no reason to believe the change of plans was coming. The reinstatement didn't even come until April 8, after the Bears had played two Pac-10 series (and rolled up 5 of their 13 conference wins).
After resurrection, things didn't suddenly get better either. After getting swept by Arizona St., Cal lost two of three to both eventual conference champion UCLA and Oregon St., the leader at the time.(Though a win in the second game of Saturday's double header against the Beavers would eventually prove huge, not only in denying Oregon St. a win that it turns out would have won the conference for them, and maybe earned a high enough seed to host a Super Regional, but also adding a valuable win to the Bear's record that might have been instrumental in their selection and seeding to the NCAA tournament.)
When Stanford took both games played against California on the Bears' home field on the last weekend of the season, relegating Cal to a second division finish in the Pac-10, I had doubts whether they would even get an NCAA invite, never mind a third seed.
The baseball gods smiled on the Bears again, though, and Cal did get in, while worthy teams like LSU and Gonzaga were left out, sending them off to Houston, TX.
The Bears lost to those other bears, the ones from Baylor, on the first day of the regionals, and it looked like the fact that the program was saved, and at least got a quick trip to the postseason, not that bad a season, would have to be enough.
But something awoke the Bears. After eliminating Alcorn St., and facing another elimination game against Houston regional host Rice, who was one of the 8 NCAA national seeds, the Bears responded by eliminating the Owls, the only national seed to not advance to the Super Regionals.
Admittedly, Rice was a questionable choice as a national seed, especially at the exclusion of Texas A&M, as well as both Oregon St. and Arizona St. But they were a 40+ win team playing at home.
Cal then squared the score with Baylor, with an 8-0 blowout win, forcing another bear brawl to determine which bears would advance. It looked like the Golden Bears had finally run out of gas in the rubber game of the series with Baylor though, trailing 7-3 going to the bottom of the 8th inning.
And after Cal rallied for a pair of runs to cut the deficit to 7-5, Baylor tacked on an insurance run in the top of the 9th. But the Golden Bears rose from the dead yet again, scoring 4 runs to pull out a 9-8 win that was without a doubt one of the most exciting finishes to an NCAA baseball game all season.
As luck would have it, independent startup Dallas Baptist was also winning their regional, upsetting both Oklahoma and TCU, as well as beating Oral Roberts. Cal would get to host a Super Regional! The only non-#1 seed to host! Except the Bears' field has no lights, and does not meet minimum standards to host an NCAA post season game. (Remember, the Cal administration hasn't exactly shown tremendous support for this program.)
But the series was sighted at Santa Clara University, just down the road. And with a football tailgate atmosphere setting the tone, the Bears easily swept the over-matched Patriots by scores of 7-0 and 6-2, earning their first trip to Omaha in 19 years.
The NCAA does not re-set the matchups after the regional round, so Cal got to host a Super Regional series as a #3 seed, and at another site, while thee number one seeds, and two number twos, including the other three Pac-10 teams that won regionals, all traveled one or more time zones. Whether that should change is a hot topic with a lot of folks, though not in Berkeley. (It is worth noting that Oregon St. won a CWS after hosting a Super Regional they inherited as well though, so what goes around comes around.)
Cal will play the winner of this afternoon's Virginia-Cal-Irvine game next Sunday. Who knows, maybe the Anteaters, who already eliminated UCLA,
will would have overcome the Cavaliers, the top seed in the entire tournament, and the Bears will would get another #3 seed to start off with in Omaha. Instead, Virginia scored twice in the bottom of the ninth inning to come from behind to edge Irvine 3-2, so the Bears can write the next chapter in their Cinderella story against the #1 seed.
Regardless, Pac-10 teams and their fans have a team to root for in Omaha for the 15th. straight season, and a warm fuzzy one at that. After that Saturday afternoon 6-2 loss in the rain delayed second game of a double header, its a bit of a tough one for Beaver fans. Nevertheless...