‘It was a great run’
Notes: Crowd favorites California leave Omaha with heads high
OMAHA, Neb. – The players on California didn’t know where they’d be playing baseball in 2012 when the 2011 season began. All they knew: it wasn’t going to be in Berkeley.
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Then came the news in April that the program would live on following almost $10 million raised by a fundraising campaign. Then, the wild comeback win in the ninth inning against Baylor to claim the Houston Regional – which included the student radio call heard ‘round the world.
Not being able to find a home for their Super Regional against Dallas Baptist came next. But a sweep of the Patriots at Santa Clara sent the Golden Bears here, to Omaha. It’s where the run ended Thursday night against No. 1-seed Virginia in an 8-1 loss.
“It was a great run, I'm proud of all my teammates that we were able to go through so much and end up in Omaha,” senior Austin Booker said.
California was held to one run or less for the eighth time this season, the Golden Bears lost all eight, while Cal surrendered eight runs in the loss. It was just the fourth time this season that the Golden Bears gave up eight runs or more.
Finishing tied for fifth-place at the 2011 College World Series was something none of the players – or coaches for that matter -- had on their minds when the season began in February. Head coach Dave Esquer was trying to help place his players with other programs around the nation.
But this team did it. Cal made its first trip to Omaha since 1992. The Golden Bears won their first game at the CWS since 1980.
“We got a chance to go to Omaha with a very special team in a really crazy year,” Esquer said. “And I think our program and our players proved a lot to themselves that they would take can them the rest of their lives. It's going to help them be better professionals, whether baseball players or even professionals outside of baseball. I think they've learned a lot of lessons about perseverance and strength and it's going to help them be better husbands and fathers, and I think it's been a year that has really taught them as well as myself a whole lot about human spirit.”
And most importantly, instead of talking about the end of a baseball program from one of the sport’s biggest conferences, we’re talking about how the Golden Bears could return next year.
As much as the loss will sting for the Cal, its season was a win for college baseball.
The 1991 Creighton baseball team, which became the first team from the state of Nebraska to advance to the College World Series, was honored prior to the Virginia-California contest on Thursday night. The 20-year reunion was extra special for the Bluejays as they cheered former teammate Brian O’Connor, who is now the head coach at Virginia.
A picture of O’Connor celebrating with his teammates was used as the inspiration for the Road to Omaha statue that sits outside TD Ameritrade Park, and previously stood outside the gates at Rosenblatt Stadium.
In April, the squad was inducted into the Omaha Sports Hall of Fame. The Bluejays posted a 2-2 record in the 1991 CWS, winning their first and third contests, but falling to Wichita State twice.
Noting the CWS
• Thursday’s attendance of 25,833 is the largest crowd in TD Ameritrade Park history, bettering the crowd of 25,521 which saw the Florida-Texas game on June 18th.
• With Virginia’s win against California, it will be the only the second time in the last eight seasons that a national seed is guaranteed to win a national title. The four remaining teams – No. 1 Virginia, No. 2 Florida, No. 4 South Carolina and No. 6 Vanderbilt – were all national seeds this season. The only other national seed to win a national title since 2004 is LSU as a No. 3 seed in 2009.
• The final four teams in the CWS are also the national leaders in wins: Virginia (56); Vanderbilt (54); South Carolina (52), and Florida (52). Three of the top five ERAs in the country remain after Thursday’s action, including national leader Virginia (2.25, first), Vanderbilt (2.38, third), and South Carolina (2.53).
• Virginia’s Keith Werman leads the nation in sacrifice bunts with 25 following his third-inning sacrifice. His total ties for fifth on the NCAA single-season list, joining Joe Scott of Cal State Fullerton (2009) and Brandon Loy of Texas (2009).
• Virginia pitchers now have a 1.69 team ERA in nine NCAA Tournament contests and have allowed two runs or less in all seven of its NCAA wins while allowing 13 runs in its two losses.