What looked like it would be a favorable matchup for Cal turned into disaster for the Bears in their first postseason game since 2015.
Cal ace Jared Horn was the Bears’ starting pitcher, while TCU decided not to start its best pitcher, Nick Lodolo. Plus most analysts were surprised that TCU even got a berth in the 64-team postseason field after going 32-26, including 11-13 in the Big 12.
But Horn, who entered the game with a 6-1 record and a 1.82 ERA, had perhaps his worst outing of the season. Meanwhile, the Bears hitters could not figure out TCU starter Brandon Williamson, who came into the game with a 4-5 record and a 4.20 ERA.
It added up to a 13-2 TCU victory over the Bears Friday night in Cal’s opening game of the four-team NCAA Regional in Fayetteville, Ark. The 13 runs were the most runs scored against Cal this season. The 11-run loss was the Bears' largest margin of defeat this season and matched the Bears' largest margin of defeat in the Bears' postseason history. (The Horned Frogs scored more than the TCU football team did in a 10-7 victory over Cal in the Cheez-Bowl last seson.)
As a result of Friday's loss, Cal (32-19) will face Central Connecticut in a 10 a.m. (Pacific time) game Saturday, needing a win to stay alive in the double-elimination tournament. Cal head coach Mike Neu will no doubt remind his team that the last time Cal got to the College World Series -- in 2011 -- the Bears lost their first game of the Regionals, then proceeded to win six straight games to take them through the Regionals and Super Regionals and on to Omaha, Neb.
In the earlier game Friday, top-seeded Arkansas (42-17) defeated Central Connecticut 11-5, and the Razorbacks did not have to use their top starting pitcher. That means Isaiah Campbell (10-1) is still available to start Saturday.
But he will go against Lodolo, expected to be a first-round pick in the Major League draft, which begins Monday.
Horn (6-2) had been outstanding over the second half of the season, but he suffered his first loss since March 16 on Friday. It was obvious early that Horn was not as sharp as usual.
He had gone at least six innings in each of his last eight starts, but he failed to get an out in the sixth inning against TCU before he was replaced.
Horn allowed seven hits, four walks, a hit batsman and five runs (three earned) in five-plus innings. The Bears’ defense and offense did not help him either.
Errors helped TCU scored its first two runs, while Cal batters mustered just three hits through the first seven innings, with the top three hitters in the Bears’ order – Cameron Eden, Quentin Selma and Andrew Vaughn – going hitless in that span.
TCU (33-26) scored a run in the top of the first when Cal catcher Korey Lee threw the ball into left field while trying to get Hunter Wolfe, who was attempting to steal third while the batter was striking out. Wolfe scored on the play.
An error by Cal third baseman Quentin Selma allowed TCU's Jack Guenther to score from third in the third inning, although it was ruled an earned run.
Cal got on the board in the fourth, when an infield single by Darren Baker drove in a run to make it 2-1.
Wolfe’s homer in the fifth gave TCU a 3-1 lead, and the game got away from Cal in the sixth, when TCU scored six times.
A single and an error by Horn on a bunt attempt put runners at first and second with no one out to start the sixth. That signaled the end of the day for Horn.
Cal reliever Rogelio Reyes faced just three batters, allowing a walk, Wolfe’s two-run double and a sacrifice fly. His replacement, Jack Delmore, allowed an RBI single as well as Johnny Rizer’s two-run homer, making it 9-1 before the sixth inning ended.
The left-handed Williamson pitched only four innings, but allowed just three hits, two walks and one run while striking out seven. Reliever Charles King had similar success.