Losing Streak Dims Bears' Postseason Hopes

Photo: Austin Booker swings and misses in yesterday's 11-2 loss against No. 10 UCLA. The Bears are in the midst of a seven-game losing streak that jeopardizes their NCAA Regional hopes.
Anna Vignet/Staff
Austin Booker swings and misses in yesterday's 11-2 loss against No. 10 UCLA. The Bears are in the midst of a seven-game losing streak that jeopardizes their NCAA Regional hopes.

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Center fielder Chad Bunting captured perfectly the effect that the Cal baseball team's recent seven-game losing streak - extended by Sunday's 11-2 loss against No. 10 UCLA - has had on its postseason outlook.

"Six games ago, I would have told you that a regional was 100 percent (certain)," Bunting said Saturday afternoon. "Now, we need to win a few games."

Four remain and, as misfortune would have it, all are away from Evans Diamond. The Bears are 10-13 on the road this year and 3-9 when playing a Pac-10 opponent. They travel to Pacific on Tuesday and Oregon over the weekend for a series that, all of a sudden, may determine whether or not they make the NCAA tournament.

The conference is so muddled in the middle right now - and strong overall - that Cal coach David Esquer says it's "very likely" that between six and eight Pac-10 teams will qualify. The Bears (27-22, 11-13 in the Pac-10) have a national top-ten strength of schedule and, as a result, belong in the top 50 in RPI.

But their overall record does not jump out and, if they do not reach 30 wins, they may be seen as an unattractive candidate.

"We are a playoff team," Esquer said. "We're not playing like it right now, but we are a playoff team."

Part of that distinction is the good defense that Cal has played for most of the season - which did not show up this weekend against the Bruins (41-11, 16-8). The Bears made nine errors over the three games and defensive miscues were crucial to their losses on Friday and Saturday.

"Our pitchers have to be able to have confidence that they can throw in the zone and get outs without having to strike a guy out every time," Bunting said.

Several players admitted over the weekend that the team might be pressing a little, knowing that they need wins to close out the season. On April 21, they were 23-11. Since then, they have lost 11 of 15.

One strike away from snapping the losing streak on Friday, following a tie-breaking eighth-inning home run by Marcus Semien, Cal saw UCLA rally for three runs in the top of the ninth to take the first game of the series, 8-7. Leading 5-4 through seven innings on Saturday, the Bruins broke that game open with seven runs over the final two innings.

Asked if he is confident the Bears can rebound to close out the season strong, Bunting replied in the affirmative.

"We've been on the wrong side of a lot of close games that have been back and forth, like the first 16 innings of this series," he said. "Baseball will come around."

Esquer invoked that same faith in the game, saying that the team is "going to rely a little bit on baseball" over the final week.

"A week or so ago, all we had to do was just baseball - win some, lose some, we've got no worries," he said. "It's getting down to it, but I hope our kids aren't worrying too much because we've got a good club."


Contact Matt Kawahara at [email protected]

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