Without a doubt, the Cal Golden Bears are the best story of the 2011 NCAA baseball tournament. Up until April, this was set to be the last season the university fielded a baseball team. Along with four other sports, Cal baseball was being folded up like a cheap tent.
Thanks to a huge fundraising effort by boosters, the program has been saved. To celebrate, the Bears have made it to the College World Series.
The Bears' run began in the Houston regional hosted by Rice University. There, the Bears dropped their opening game by the score of 6-4 to a different breed of bear, the Baylor Bears.
They then rattled off four straight wins, including a thrilling 9-8 win over Baylor, to move on to the super regional round. In that final win against Baylor, Cal rallied from three runs down in the ninth inning to win on a walk-off single by first baseman Devon Rodriguez.
In the super regionals, the Bears met up with another unlikely success story, the Dallas Baptist Patriots. Once there, Cal manhandled the Patriots by scores of 7-0 and 6-2. DBU was never really in either game.
The story for the Bears, particularly in the series win over Dallas Baptist, was their pitching. DBU came into the series boasting one of the more powerful offenses in the nation. When it was all said and done, they had limited the Patriots to a combined two runs in the two games.
In their Game 1 shutout win, Justin Jones threw six shutout innings and only allowed a single DBU hit. In Game 2, Erik Johnson gave up two runs on three hits in six innings. Three relievers followed him with one shutout inning a piece.
The Cal pitching staff is incredibly deep. In the starting rotation, they are led by the aforementioned Jones and Johnson. In the bullpen, they have four stalwarts with ERAs under 3.00, led by closer Matt Flemer.
If Cal is going to continue their winning ways, they will have to pitch well.
Offensively, the Bears have no real star with staggering stats, but they get contributions from everyone. Tony Renda was the Pac-10 player of the year and came up big when it mattered most. In their series clinching win over the Patriots, Renda went 3-for-5.
Catcher Chadd Krist and first baseman Devon Rodriguez came up huge in the postseason as well. Krist homered in the series-clinching win over DBU and drove in five total runs in the regional round in Houston.
In the regional finale against Baylor, Rodriguez went 3-for-4 with four runs batted in, including the walk-off single.
Cal has had an "us against the world" mentality all season. That mentality is what sparked the fundraising drive to save the program. It is also what fueled a great regular season and magical postseason run.
Now that they have shown they are a talented group, they won't be sneaking up on anyone.
Cal will have to play over their heads to have success in Omaha. I'm not sure that anyone will pick them to make it through the field, but go ahead and count them out. It's a situation they are more than familiar with.