After Seven-Year Itch, Bears Go Dancing

Photo: The Cal baseball team celebrates in its locker room in the basement of Haas Pavilion as it learns its playoff fate. The Bears will be the No. 3-seed in the Long Beach regional.
Tollef Biggs/Photo
The Cal baseball team celebrates in its locker room in the basement of Haas Pavilion as it learns its playoff fate. The Bears will be the No. 3-seed in the Long Beach regional.

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The mood in the locker room of the No. 20 Cal baseball team was one of nervous chatter and idle speculation early Monday morning, anything really to keep from thinking that one dark thought that has haunted the team since 2005-what if we don't get in?

ESPN made the Bears wait just about as long as possible, announcing all but one other regional bracket for the NCAA tournament before flashing "California" on the screen as part of the Long Beach State regional. The room erupted, as for the first time since 2001, the Cal baseball team learned it was playoff-bound.

Some of the younger players were irritated that the team was slotted as a No. 3-seed, when just a week ago they were projected as No. 1-seeds in many, if not all, mock brackets.

The main source of that discontent was that both Arizona and Stanford were given No. 1-seeds, despite the fact that the Bears won the season series from both Pac-10 opponents. Unranked UCLA (31-25) earned the No. 2-seed in the Fullerton, Calif., regional.

"UCLA had a terrible year, they put together one good weekend and they're a two-seed," closer Matt Gorgen said. "Arizona, we beat them in league, and they get a one-seed. It sucks, but that's what happens when you don't prove yourself. You get screwed."

A steadying hand came from the corner of the room, as senior Josh Satin-whose walk-off 10th-inning home run salvaged a win in Sunday's season finale -held a wooden bat in his fingers and said, "Hey, we made it."

Which is more than two-time defending national champion Oregon State can say. The Beavers were the first defending champs left out of the tournament since Georgia in 1991.

"It's just a satisfying feeling," said senior pitcher Alex Rollin. "All that work through five years has paid off, and this is the best team I think we've had since I've been here, so it's exciting to finally go."

Cal (33-19-2) will face No. 7 San Diego (41-15), the No. 2-seed in the Long Beach regional, at 2 p.m. on Friday, with the other two teams, No. 1-seed Long Beach State (37-19) and No. 4-seed Fresno State (37-27), facing off at 6 p.m. the same evening.

The regional will continue all weekend until all but one team has accrued two losses. The winner of the regional will go on to face the winner of the Tempe, Ariz., regional at Packard Stadium in a best-of-three Super Regional series for the right to move on to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.

The Bears have faced all teams in the regional at least once this season, going 6-0 against them collectively.

"It's definitely one of the tougher (regions)," Rollin said. "But we've seen all the teams, we've seen what they've got, and we've got some pretty good talent, too. It's going to be a pretty good battle."

On March 2, Cal defeated the Torreros 5-0 in the San Diego Tournament, where on Feb. 28, the Bears also downed the Bulldogs 14-4. Cal beat Fresno State again on Apr. 2 at Evans Diamond, winning 5-4, and swept the Dirtbags in Berkeley in the March 28-30 series, outscoring Long Beach State 20-10 overall.

But this time, Cal will be playing at the Dirtbags' sandbox, Blair Field.

"It's a dead park, definitely a pitcher's park," said Rollin. "It's something Long Beach is used to, and we've been there before, so we've seen it. But it's going to be a lot different than Evans Diamond. Not a lot of home runs there."

Starting for the Bears on Friday will be junior ace Tyson Ross (7-3, 4.40 ERA), who will oppose another of the nation's best pitchers, the highly-touted junior Brian Matusz (11-2, 1.88). Beyond that, head coach David Esquer was unsure of his rotation.

"You don't know who you're playing and how they match up and those things," Esquer said.

Likely candidates for starting work could be Rollin, freshman Kevin Miller (who threw four shutout innings on Sunday), or the lefties Craig Bennigson and Chris Petrini.


Contact Ryan Gorcey at [email protected]

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