Walk-off by Knapp Seals Opening Day Cal Sweep

Photo: Marcus Semien went 1-for-4 and scored a run in Cal's 6-5 win over Utah on Sunday.
Kevin Foote/Staff
Marcus Semien went 1-for-4 and scored a run in Cal's 6-5 win over Utah on Sunday.

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The orange sunset light was quickly fading when Cal pinch hitter Andrew Knapp stepped into the batter's box. Moments before, left fielder Darrel Matthews singled to tie the game 5-5 in the bottom of the ninth. But now, Evans Diamond was silent as all eyes followed Knapp.

Utah reliever Brock Duke rocked back and delivered. Knapp swung.

The ball lined past first, bouncing softly in the right field grass. Danny Oh rounded third and sprinted home. The throw was high; Oh was safe.

The Cal baseball team - just a week removed from learning it would not be among the teams reinstated - rushed onto the field with the raw esctasy of World Series champions.

And in that moment, everything that mattered was on the field.

"Much like our program, I hope we never say die," coach David Esquer said. "And our kids know that. They know they represent a lot. They're a special group, and they showed that today."

With that emphatic walk-off win, the No. 17 Bears opened the 2011 season, their final - at least for now - as an intercollegiate sport at UC Berkeley. It was a winning weekend. Cal shut out Utah, 7-0, in the first game of Sunday's doubleheader before scoring four runs in the bottom of the ninth to clinch the second.

"Our team is doing a really good job on just focusing on this season, but you always have that in the back of your mind like, what's going to happen next year," Knapp said. "We wanted to come out and make a statement. And we definitely did that."

Rain postponed play on Friday and Saturday, building the team's anticipation to a fevered pitch. But as excited as the Bears were to start their season, perhaps the emotionally charged atmosphere got the better of them.

At the plate, Cal struggled to consistently string together hits. Luckily for the Bears, an eighth-inning grand slam from third baseman Mitch Delfino in the first game and late heroics in the second were enough to carry the weekend.

"Both teams look like two teams that have been sitting around for two days, hitting in the cages and not on the field," Esquer said. "Both teams didn't show their best offense, and I think a lot of that was just being stale from rainouts ...

"Our bats looked slow and long, but when it counted we were able to generate enough runs. I think we'll thaw out, but we weren't great today."

Cal doesn't have much time to rest. The Bears travel to Stanford today for a single 5:30 p.m. contest. The rivalry game doesn't count toward Pac-10 standings, but it will go a long way as a measuring stick for Cal. The Cardinal are ranked No. 8 in the nation.

"You hear all this hype about how good they are," Matthews said. "We get to test it first-hand."

If this is, as the Bears believe, the start of a special season, then they got a harbinger of that in the very first inning.

C.J. Cron, Utah's highly touted All-American catcher, was at the plate with two outs. He dug into the still-wet dirt and hacked at the pitch, lining it at the head of Cal pitcher Erik Johnson.

Calmly, Johnson reached up, gloved it for the out and then, for good measure, spiked the ball into the pitcher's mound.

As his teammates cheered, the air seemed to be pervaded with a single sentiment:

This was a good way to begin.


Katie Dowd covers baseball. Contact her at [email protected]

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