OMAHA, Neb. (CBS/AP) – California coach David Esquer called on all hands to save his baseball program, and he’s doing the same to keep his team playing in the College World Series.
Freshman utilityman Derek Campbell drove in two runs out of the No. 9 spot, closer Matt Flemer pitched three scoreless innings in his longest outing of the year and the Golden Bears kept up their improbable postseason run with a 7-3 victory over Texas A&M.
“I’m happy our guys kind of grinded it out, because that’s kind of how we do it. We don’t do it easy,” Esquer said.
The Bears (38-22) won their first CWS game in three appearances since 1980 and will play either Virginia or South Carolina on Thursday in another elimination game.
The Big 12 regular-season and postseason champion Aggies (47-22) went two games and out and are 2-10 in five all-time CWS appearances.
Aggies coach Rob Childress said he told his players that they should expect to come back next year.
“We didn’t play like we’re capable of playing the two games that we were here,” Childress said. “It’s nobody’s fault.”
The Bears led 6-1 after scoring three runs in the fifth and three more in the sixth. Campbell, a .255 hitter who came in with five RBIs in 22 games, delivered RBI singles each inning.
Freshman left-hander Kyle Porter (6-0) allowed three runs in six innings. Flemer finished for his sixth save, giving up three singles and striking out five. They combined to stop an A&M club that had recorded 17 comeback victories this season.
Esquer wrote Campbell into the lineup at second base for the fourth straight game so Tony Renda, the Pac-10 player of the year, could rest an injured quadriceps. Renda, who had lobbied Esquer for the start at second, had two hits and drove in a run as the designated hitter.
“Well, sometimes your best moves, you stumble into them,” Esquer said. “We were completely comfortable with Derek out at second base, the defense he can play, and he can chip in and help our offense. So we felt like let’s go with that lineup and let’s make it work.”
California would need three more wins to reach the best-of-three championship round next week. Then again, the Bears coaches and players believe anything is possible after the way their season has evolved.
The Cal administration last fall announced plans to cut the program in 2012 for budgetary reasons, but boosters and alumni raised $9 million to save the Bears. The program was reinstated in April as the Bears were on their way to a sixth-place finish in the Pac-10.
After losing in the first round of regionals, they swept through the tournament before losing 4-1 to Virginia in their CWS opener Saturday.
“We were down as a program, and we were down in this tournament as well,” Renda said. “You lose this first game and you have to win ball games against very good teams or you’re going home. We know the task and what we need to do, and we know what it’s going to take.
“Throw our best guys out there, keep turning over the lineup and get to that championship series.”
The Aggies led 1-0 in the fourth after Adam Smith homered into the left-field bullpen.
“The left-hander did an amazing job for them,” Childress said. “He got them off to a really good start. The guy hadn’t had a lot of starts. He matched Michael pitch for pitch. He made one mistake against Adam and wasn’t fazed by it.”
The Bears responded with six runs the next two innings against Michael Wacha (9-4).
After Chad Bunting reached on an error and Darrel Matthews singled in the fifth, Campbell singled home the Bears’ first run.
Campbell singled into center for a five-run lead after Mitch Delfino’s RBI double and Bunting’s run-scoring single.
Campbell said he’s tried to forget that he’s playing on college baseball’s grandest stage this week.
“I don’t like to think too much, because when I think too much that doesn’t work well with me,” he said. “I’m not going to go do more than I’m capable of. But in that process success comes.”
Texas A&M scored twice on three hits and an error in the sixth. Flemer entered the next inning and held off the Aggies the rest of the way. He hasn’t given up a run in 8 2-3 innings over his last seven games.
Porter also started an elimination game against Baylor in regionals, giving up three hits in 6 2-3 shutout innings. He was just as good against the Aggies.
“As for as the elimination games, I don’t treat it any differently than any other game,” he said. “I try not to be caught up in the moment. I try just to not think out there, just go ahead and throw. It usually doesn’t hit me until after.”
(Copyright 2011 by CBSSan Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)