Wildcats' three-run ninth walks off Bears

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Friday morning, coach David Esquer gathered the Cal baseball team into a room at the Hilton Tucson East. They were having a scouting report meeting before kicking off a three-game series against Arizona, he said, even though the No. 13 Bears had never had one on any of their prior road trips this season.

They didn't start then either, as Esquer instead gave them the news of their program's reinstatement over six months after it was cut.

"We went in, he dropped the news on us," catcher Chadd Krist said. "It was just a big weight off of our shoulders, a big sigh of relief, that our program's finally getting reinstated."

Perhaps they could have used the scouting report after all. Cal gave up three runs in the bottom of the ninth to hand the Wildcats a 5-4 walk-off victory at Kindall Field; it had not trailed prior to the final frame.

Senior outfielder Austin Booker grabbed what looked to be a go-ahead lead for the Bears when he sent an 0-1 pitch into the right side with bases loaded, driving home two runs for a 4-2 lead in the ninth inning. On a team that had grown accustomed to 11th-hour drama this spring, it wasn't a surprise.

"We expect that. Every inning, we expect that's the inning that we go," outfielder Vince Bruno said. "Our dugout is really good at getting us going. We're just good at that."

On Friday at least, Arizona was better. The Wildcats battered Cal reliever Matt Flemer in the bottom of the ninth; a pair of doubles bookending a full-count walk tied the game with only one out. After Flemer intentionally walked Arizona center fielder Joey Rickard to give the Wildcats runners on first and second, he was pulled for freshman reliever Kyle Porter.

The change didn't help. Catcher Jeff Bandy singled into right field and the Wildcats rushed the field in celebration.

It was an explosive ending to a game that saw Cal's starting pitcher Erik Johnson go nearly pitch for pitch with Arizona's Kurt Heyer, the reigning Pac-10 Pitcher of the Week. Both struck out 11; Johnson did it in seven innings while Heyer did in 8 2/3. Johnson allowed two earned runs, including a home run, and Heyer allowed three.

The Bears were the first on the scoreboard with second baseman Tony Renda's sac fly. Booker, who drove in three of the team's four runs, tacked on a second RBI when he grounded out after outfielder Darrel Matthews tripled.

Arizona second baseman Bryce Ortega launched a solo shot into left field to pull his team within one in the bottom of the fifth, and Bandy's single RBI evened the score in the bottom of the eighth.

Both teams take the field again Saturday at 6 p.m.

Tags: CAL BASEBALL, DAVID ESQUER, AUSTIN BOOKER, ERIK JOHNSON, TONY RENDA


Jack Wang covers baseball. Contact him at [email protected]



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