If you think this is the first confrontation between Cal and UVa this year you've been living under a rock. Not only did we steal their women's basketball coach earlier this spring when legend Debbie Ryan stepped down, we face off with them everyday for the right to be the top public school in the country. We took their coach and I won't admit defeat on being #2 or 3 just yet so lets just call it a tie. Tomorrow the two schools will square off in Omaha to decide who will be the champion of 2011.
I did not have much knowledge of the Golden Bears coming into the weekend because I didn't expect them to make much noise in the tournament. They kindof limped into the tournament and landed in the Baylor regional but caught fire and have landed in Omaha with a date against the Cavaliers.
I answered some questions on our team that the guys over at the California Golden Blogs and they offered to return the favor.
1. First off congrats on a hell of a run so far and more importantly for shoving the baseball team's success into the administration's face. They wanted to get rid of baseball at UVa about 10 years ago and now look. Very happy for you guys. How excited has the fanbase been during this run?
: The fan base has been thrilled, and it's pretty much the first time Cal baseball has gotten any meaningful attention in my lifetime. I think there was a good chance that any kind of College World Series run would result in fan interest, but things really exploded because of how they got to Omaha. The unbelievable 9th inning comeback against Baylor, complete with a radio call reminiscent of 'The Play' really captured the attention of Bay Area sports fans. Getting lucky enough to host a Super Regional (albiet in Santa Clara) was just icing on the cake.LeonPowe
: To be completely honest, there were a lot of doubts about even making the playoffs, nevermind making it all the way to omaha. But this team has been the zombie bears. Everyone they've been counted out, they keep grinding and keep grinding. One of our most beloved (and least successful) football coaches had a saying: "the Bear Will Not Quit, The Bear Will Not Die". Joe Kapp, a successful cal quarterback, and terrible coach once said that in a pregame speech, but no cal team has ever exemplified that edict more than these Bears.
Now, to be honest, a lot of Cal fans are jumping this bandwagon starting only from Houston. We weren't an especially well supported this season, and the general fans didn't start the support until we came from behind again and again and again in Houston.
: If our blog traffic is any indication, there is more excitement over Cal baseball than at any time since the last time Cal made it to the CWS in 1992. There were more than a few Cal alumni who were up in arms over the decision to eliminate the program. The rally to raise more than $9 million to save the program was a testament to the special place that Cal baseball holds in the hearts of a lot of people. Even people who don't watch Cal baseball cared about the program being around.
2. To build on the 1st question, what are the feelings towards the administration after what they tried to pull at the beginning of the year?
OhioBear: That is hard to say. Many feel that the decision was necessary in light of the budget problems our athletic department had and believe the administration is truly happy that the program has been saved. On the other hand, I sense that there is a core of people who believe that the administration targeted baseball for elimination and placed every obstacle in the way of those who tried to save the program.
LeonPowe: I think there's two schools of thought one is that there is serious budgetary issue and someone or some department has really done a terrible job of budgeting and while there was no good solution the administration had to do something and make an ugly choice. The other thought is that the Cal administration did a poor job of communication and if things had gotten so bad, the alarm should have been raised earlier and maybe the ugly choice should never have had to have been made. Since I'm not close to the program it's easy for me to sit back and say, well it really sucks, but there is a huge shortfall and something has to take the ax, but in the end I'm super happy things worked out, especially with Cals baseball history.
NorCalNick: Well, the funny thing is that prior to the last year or two, Cal baseball just hadn't been expecially successful, and Cal has an athletic department that fancies itself as a potential Director's Cup competitor. So it wasn't insane to suggest that based on performance, Cal baseball was hypothetically at risk. But the real problem was that the athletic department has had a structural deficit for years, but the recent recession and declines in state funding for higher education changed things so that the campus community and academic administration were no longer willing to tolerate that deficit.
As LeonPowe mentions, there are some serious questions about communication - I get the sense that the administration, after making the cuts, didn't think there was any realistic way that anybody could raise the money necessary. If so they were very mistaken, and the work done by alumni to save the program has been one of the best parts of the story.
3. What are the strengths of the Golden Bears this year? From the stats, it looks like some good pitching and solid hitting.
LeonPowe: Just a little bit of everything. We don't have a power hitting team but 1-9 we have guys who can swing the bat and get on base and hit for some power, but you wouldn't say any are power hitters. Pitching wise again we don't have one or two overpowering guys but 4-5 solid solid pitchers who can give you one or 7 innings, depending on need. Plus Pac 10 POY Tony Renda.
OhioBear: Pitching, pitching, pitching. Cal has a solid rotation with RHP Erik Franklin (2nd round pick of the Chicago White Sox), RHP Dixon Anderson (9th round pick of the Washington Nationals), and LHP Justin Jones (sophomore, not draft eligible). We also have a solid bullpen, anchored by closer Matt Flemer (taken by the Kansas City Royals). A team ERA of 2.82 is very good in college baseball, and Cal has certainly lived off its pitching.
Cal also has the Pac-10 player of the year in 2B/DH Tony Renda, who is Cal's # 2 hitter in the lineup. The lineup has been pretty solid 1 through 9 throughout the postseason.
: Most of our hitters have a little bit of pop, but there isn't any one player that makes you quake with fear of their power. Cal's strength with the bats is their ability to put the ball in play. Cal doesn't draw many walks, but they're also pretty good at not striking out. They will make a defense earn outs, something that Baylor found out in the regionals.
4. Are you guys(what I like to call) a "west coast team"? One that bunts, puts pressure on the defense, and is aggressive on the basepaths vs. the SEC that just like to hit the ball over the fence.
LeonPowe: I haven't watched the bears consistently enough this year, but judging by how we played in Houston and Santa Clara, I'd say maybe. We did hit a lot of 3-run homers, but I don't think we're a home run hitting team especially.
NorCalNick: Very much a 'west coast team,' and in a year that was a landmark season for that style of baseball in the Pac-10. Our conference was filled to the brim with talented, high draft pick pitchers highlighted with UCLA's 1st and 3rd overall pick starters, and it was a real struggled to score runs in conference play.
I'm of the opinion that Cal sacrificed much too often and got thrown out on the basepaths far more frequently than should be tolerated. That style wasn't seen nearly as much in the regionals and super-regionals, in part because the teams Cal faced didn't have pitching nearly as good as top end Pac-10 teams. Needless to say, Virginia has some pretty great pitching, so I'm fully expecting Cal to go back to the small ball on Sunday. For their sake they'll need to execute it a bit better than they did at times in the regular season.
OhioBear: As noted above, Cal is not a power team. We don't play Earl Weaver ball. Coach David Esquer will send runners on the hit-and-run and he'll use the sacrifice as much (if not more) than you'll see in college baseball. If anything, Cal has had a tendency to get over-aggressive on the basepaths.
5. How did you guys get to Omaha? Was Dallas Baptist an actual Division 1 baseball program or did you guys just make them up?
NorCalNick: I can't say I had heard of Dallas Baptist prior to the playoffs, but I was surprised at how solid their resume was. They had been competing with playoff quality Texas teams all year, including their regional win.
That said, Cal pretty completely outclassed them last weekend. It's only two games, so make of it what you will, but it was wonderful as a fan to watch a couple games that didn't involve chest pains in the final innings.
OhioBear: Good question. Cal was eliminated in the regionals last year by Oral Roberts, so we thought people were yanking our chain when they said we were playing Dallas Baptist.
Just kidding -- Dallas Baptist is a good club that just didn't have enough pitching to stay with our Bears in the super regionals. (Cal held DBU to 7 hits total in the 2 super regional games.) DBU is a Division I independent that moved to NCAA from NAIA about 6 years ago. We didn't take them lightly -- they got through the Forth Worth regional by beating TCU and Oklahoma, so we didn't think it would be easy.
As for our making it through the Houston Regional, we did that the hard way. We dropped the opening game to Baylor and then won the next four, including eliminating host Rice (the # 8 overall seed). We had to beat Baylor twice to win the regional and managed to do it. We beat them 8-0 and then (in probably the greatest win in Cal baseball history since winning the 1957 College World Series championship) beat them again, 9-8, in the regional final game by scoring four runs in the bottom of the 9th inning to cap a furious comeback.
6. What it going to take for the Golden Bears to dogpile in Omaha?
OhioBear: We need the pitching to continue to be solid. The conventional wisdom is that Cal is not suited to getting into a slugfest with teams, so the pitching will have to keep our hitters within striking distance.
: It's probably going to take elite performances from Erik Johnson
and Justin Jones. Of our four or five potential starters, they are the two truly capable of a shut down performance of any team when they have their best stuff. There are some big concerns with them, however.
Johnson, after a season when he nearly held his ERA under 2.00, was knocked around twice by Baylor in the regionals. He bounced back a bit with a solid six inning performance on Sunday against Dallas Baptist, but that start still wasn't his best.
7. Finally, two part question: 1) Are you guys going to bring the tree people and have them live in the trees outside the stadium? 2) Can we play this game with the winner being annointed best public university ever? We're a little bitter we're still the #2 public.
OhioBear: (1) Good idea. Perhaps we'll bring them and then leave them in Omaha. (2) Two things -- First, you're not the # 2 public. From what I understand, that distinction goes to our annoying little brother at the southern branch campus of the University of California, located in Los Angeles. And even if you were the # 2 public, we wouldn't play this game for that. We would play rugby for that (the 15s game, not that abomination they call 7s), as a true test of both brain and brawn.
NorCalNick: Well, I'd rather they be in Omaha than Berkeley! Honestly, I'm not sure where the tree people are - they haven't really been heard from in a couple years. Presumbly they've moved on to some other lost cause that (thankfully) doesn't get any media attention.
As much as I think that Cal seems to have the mojo to pull off the upset, I don't think I'm willing to risk our crown against the #1 team in baseball. That said, I would like to thank all Virginia staff, students and alums for successfully keeping UCLA lower in the rankings. The southern branch needed to be taken down a peg or two.
There you have it folks. The 'Hoos and the Golden Bears will face off on Sunday to decide who has the better public institution (Just because they don't agree doesn't mean its not true! As George Costanza said, "Its not a lie if you believe it".)