Cal’s dream season on the baseball diamond continues, as the Bears stayed alive in the College World Series with a 7-3 win yesterday over a tough Texas A&M squad. Tomorrow they’ll face the top-ranked Virginia Cavaliers. The Cavs handed the Bears a 4-1 loss in the opening round of the tournament last Sunday, before falling yesterday to defending champs South Carolina.
Cal arrived in Omaha with six straight wins behind them, including victories over Rice, Baylor and Dallas Baptist. Still, they are considered underdogs; they finished just sixth in the Pac-10 and were the third seed in their regional bracket. And by the end of the regular season, they had dropped off Baseball America’s Top 25. Even now, the guys face long odds in their quest to go all the way. They’ll need three more wins to make it to the best-of-three championship round. A loss tomorrow would send them home.
But long odds have been the story of this season. After all, this was a team that was to be eliminated as a varsity sport at the close of 2011 competition due to budget constraints. When CALIFORNIA spoke to head coach David Esquer shortly after the news of the cuts last September, he spoke of the unique challenge of trying to save a program, run a program, and prepare to dismantle a program all at the same time. “It’s much more difficult than I ever could have anticipated,” Esquer said. “Just running a program is difficult enough.”
In the end, Esquer will not have to dismantle his program. Thanks to donors, who pledged support in excess of $9 million to Cal Baseball, the team was reinstated in April. And given his squad’s continuing success, it should come as little surprise that Esquer (now 355-312-2 in his 12-year tenure at Cal) was just named the National Coach of the Year by the National College Baseball Writers Association.
As to how he handled the uncertainty that dogged his players this year, Esquer told reporters in Omaha that he considered how he’d want his own son handled in the same situation. “I tried to make sure to provide that type of guidance for our players and help the alumni who were working so hard behind the scenes. Our job was to find an answer, not to assign blame or focus on the problem.”
Cal plays Virginia at 4 PT on Thursday. The game will be broadcast on ESPN. You can also listen to the game on KALX, 90.7 FM.