Freshman Porter keeps Bears in play
Victory was program's first CWS win since 1981
OMAHA, Neb. -- Tuesday afternoon wasn’t the first time California freshman left-hander Kyle Porter has been faced with elimination. And thanks to Porter’s crucial performance on the mound against Texas A&M at the College World Series, the Golden Bears will write another chapter to their storybook season before the incredible ride ends.
Making his second start of the NCAA postseason, and just his third of the year, Porter stepped in front of 18,141 fans at TD Ameritrade Park and helped Cal stave off elimination as the Bears earned the right to play again on Thursday at 7 p.m. ET against the loser of South Carolina-Virginia.
With Cal starter Justin Jones out with a left bicep injury he suffered against Dallas Baptist, it was Porter that head coach Dave Esquer went to in a tight spot.
“Every time we used him the whole year was when the game mattered most, whether it was out of the pen or starting games,” Esquer said. “We got in the position where we had to use him in an elimination game against Baylor [in the NCAA Regional]. We have great confidence in him. That was the key for us – him coming out and giving us six innings of good baseball.”
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The native of El Dorado Hills, Calif., gave up three runs on seven hits and one walk, striking out four batters in the six-inning outing.
“He kept us off-balance with his off-speed and his fastball,” Texas A&M third baseman Adam Smith said. “It wasn’t overpowering, but he was a good pitcher. He knew what he was doing and got us out of our approach, and weren’t able to string enough at bats together to get more runs across.”
Even when Smith did take advantage of a Porter mistake – a pitch that was hung up in the zone – with a solo home run to left field in the fourth inning, the youngster did not sweat it.
“The left-hander did an amazing job for them and got them off to a really good start,” Texas A&M head coach Rob Childress said. “He’s a guy that had not had a lot of starts and was starting on this stage. He matched [Texas A&M starter] Michael [Wacha] pitch for pitch and made one mistake against Adam [Smith] and wasn’t fazed by it.”
Porter limited the Aggies’ opportunities, fanning two batters to end a scoring threat in the fifth inning, and shaking off a botched double play in the sixth. He gave up two runs in the frame, but worked out of the jam by striking out Texas A&M shortstop Kenny Jackson. Cal reliever Matt Flemer secured the Bears’ survival with three scoreless innings to conclude the game.
“He probably could have gotten out of the sixth inning unscathed but to his credit he got us out of that inning as well and set the table for Matt [Flemer] to come in and give us those final innings,” Esquer said. “Many people may be surprised he came through that way, but I don’t think anyone on our pitching staff didn’t think he was capable of doing that.”
Picking up his second NCAA postseason victory, Porter became the second freshman pitcher in the last two days in Omaha to notch a CWS elimination game victory. North Carolina freshman lefty Kent Emanuel sent Texas home on Monday after tossing a complete-game shutout. But Porter tries to put the implications of being in such a pressure-packed situation out of his mind.
“I try not to think about it,” Porter said. “I don’t want to go home. I am just trying to give us the best chance to win. Luckily, our offense got a lot of runs today and that makes my job a lot easier.
“I try not to be caught up in the moment … it usually doesn't hit me until after.”
Even if the significance of the victory finally does register with Porter – the Bears’ first CWS win since 1981 -- it will certainly be one of the more memorable moments of the season for a program that was cut from the university athletics department in September before being reinstated in April thanks to over $9 million raised by alumni and boosters.
“We’ve been through the lowest lows and the highest highs right now – winning a College World Series game as a freshman,” Porter said. “We’re on a high right now and we’re going to ride that.”
Porter is now 2-0 with a 2.02 ERA in 13.2 innings pitched over three NCAA postseason appearances. He has fanned 14 batters and walked only three during the stretch.