By Chris Derrett
Editor in chief
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more heartbreaking end to a season than Baylor baseball did in Monday night’s Houston Regional title game against Cal. The Bears surrendered four runs in the bottom of the ninth inning, ending with a bases loaded, walkoff single, to lose an opportunity at hosting their first super regional at Baylor Ballpark since 2005.
Cal now advances to face Dallas Baptist, who upset TCU en route to winning the Fort Worth Regoinal. The winner of that three game series will earn a trip to Omaha for the College World Series.
“It’s a painful game; it’s a very, very painful loss,” coach Steve Smith said. “Both teams competed. We have some guys that are going to have some sleepless nights. That’s just the part of college athletics and athletics in general that honestly can’t be duplicated in the classroom.”
Baylor, who led 7-1 after the top of the sixth, had several defensive chances to put away Cal in the ninth but could not make the plays it needed.
Junior Logan Verrett, who threw 7.1 innings in the Bears’ win over Cal on Friday, entered the game on short rest and suffered the blown save and loss.
After Chad Bunting led off the ninth with a single, Darrel Matthews hit a potential double play ground ball to sophomore second baseman Steve DalPorto. DalPorto did not get his glove low enough, however, and the ball rolled to the outfield as Bunting advanced to third.
The next batter, Michael Theofanopoulos, grounded to sophomore Jake Miller at third, and Miller tossed to second to retire Matthews. On the play, Bunting ran home and was caught in a rundown. But instead of chasing down Bunting, junior catcher Josh Ludy threw to third. Bunting then took off for home, and a wide throw allowed him to escape the rundown and make the score 8-6 favoring Baylor.
Verrett hit his next batter, Austin Booker, and Tony Renda followed with a single to score Theofanopoulos and bring Cal to within 8-7. A walk to Chadd Krist loaded the bases.
For a moment, Baylor had the momentum once again when Verrett got Marcus Semien to swing at a pitch in the dirt for strike three and the second out.
Devon Rodriguez would not be the final out.
Down to his team’s last strike of the season, Rodriguez poked a 1-2 pitch into right field for the win.
All Verrett’s teammates could do was console him as their College World Series hopes were dashed.
“He was struggling after [the game-winning] hit. He’s one of my good friends and I just told him, ‘You know, man, that’s not on you; that’s not on anybody,’” junior Joey Hainsfurther said. “I was just really proud of the way he came out there on such short rest. He was throwing 94 and threw a 90-miles per hour slider. That’s not because his arm feels good; that’s because he’s digging deep in his heart, doing whatever he could to try to get us a win.”
Lost in the evening was a career-long outing from Baylor’s Max Garner, who provided 5.1 innings of relief after senior Jon Ringenberg exited with one out in the third. Garner allowed seven hits and four runs, including a two-run home run in the eighth that signaled the end of his night.
“I wasn’t getting too tired or anything; I just left one pitch up,” Garner said. “I knew I was going to have to throw extended innings coming in, and I just wanted to go out there and eat up as much as I could.”
Baylor erased a 1-0, first inning deficit with six runs in the fourth. The Bears took advantage of three straight walks with Hainsfurther’s two-RBI double and Miller’s two-RBI single, and an error sandwiched between another single and double helped the Bears push their advantage to 6-1.
A Cal fielding error in the sixth helped Miller cross home plate and build Baylor’s lead to 7-1.
Garner suffered damage in the sixth as three consecutive hits and a sacrifice fly led to two Cal runs, narrowing Baylor’s lead to 7-3.
Baylor added what it thought would be an insurance run in the ninth with sophomore Logan Vick’s RBI single.
In the bottom half of the last frame, though, fundamentals broke down, and Cal swung its way to a super regional.
“When you get to that point in the ball game, defense is where you have to really slow down. It’s a conscious thing,” Smith said. “Defensively you have to stay composed and play the game like it was the first inning.”