OMAHA, Neb. -- Cal's first College World Series victory since 1980 came in the same resilient fashion that has become its trademark this season.
Elimination closed in on the Bears under gray Midwestern skies. A deficit hung on the scoreboard. There wouldn't be a big home run to boost Cal's offense.
So the Bears parlayed effective pitching, aggressive baserunning and unlikely hitting heroes into a 7-3 victory over Texas A&M on Tuesday. That earned Cal a Thursday encore in the losers' bracket against Virginia and ended the Aggies' season. Virginia beat Cal 4-1 in the opener Sunday.
"I'm happy our guys grinded it out, because that's kind of how we do it," said Cal coach David Esquer, who was surprised with National Coach of the Year honors in a pregame ceremony. "We don't do it easy,"
But Cal does do it well against teams from Texas. The Bears' last six wins have come over Rice and Baylor (twice) in the Houston regional, Dallas Baptist (twice) in the Super Regional at Santa Clara and now Texas A&M. Sorry, Cal fans, both teams from Texas are out -- the Texas Longhorns were
eliminated Monday by North Carolina.
Cal (38-22) woke up after the Aggies took a 1-0 lead on Adam Smith's fourth-inning home run off freshman starter Kyle Porter.
"He made one mistake against Adam and wasn't fazed by it," Texas A&M coach Rob Childress said of Porter, who allowed three runs and seven hits in six innings. "The stage didn't
Following Smith's home run, Esquer gathered his team in the dugout for a chat that was both inspirational and instructional. Off the Bears went, rallying for three runs in the fifth, three in the sixth and one in the seventh.
"I told them just basically I'll take bad contact to the middle of the diamond (rather) than you trying to make something good happen against the fence," Esquer said.
It was the bottom of the order -- and some bad defense by the Aggies -- that got the Bears going. No. 7 hitter Chad Bunting led off the fifth by aggressively taking second on a throwing error by Smith at third. After Darrel Matthews singled, No. 9 hitter Derek Campbell lined a single to center. Bunting scored on the hit, and Matthews came around from first on an error by center fielder Krey Bratsen. Cal had a 2-1 lead.
The Bears then made a killer-instinct statement when Campbell tagged up from third on Tony Renda's fly out to shallow right. Campbell scored when Tyler Naquin's throw home sailed high toward the backstop.
"I'm like, 'Am I going to go? Am I going to go?' " said Campbell, one of a few Bears sporting bleached blond hair. "And I hear the third-base coach (Tony Arnerich) say, 'You're going, you're going.' "
One inning later, Campbell delivered a run-scoring single that capped another three-run rally. He is hitting .438 (7 for 16) in the NCAA tournament.
Not bad for a freshman whom Esquer considered benching.
Esquer had wanted to put Renda back at second base, which would have allowed Cal to use a left-handed bat at designated hitter. Renda's strained quadriceps foiled that plan, however, so the right-handed hitter stayed at D.H. and Campbell played second base.
Renda went 2 for 3 with a walk and scored Cal's final run on Devon Rodriguez's two-out single in the seventh.
"We've been down all year and had to fight back," Renda said. "We were down as a program and we were down in this tournament as well. We know the task. We know it's going to be difficult. But we'll do it day-by-day."
Matt Flemer closed out the Aggies (47-22) with a season-long three innings of relief for his sixth save this season. Porter, who pitched the first six innings, improved to 6-0.
"Coach Esquer kept asking if he needed to get Logan (Scott) up in the bullpen," Flemer said. "I told him I had it. I definitely didn't want the season to end today."
It didn't. Cal's remarkable run will live not just another day, but at least two more until its next game.