NEW YORK — Late comebacks are nothing new for the California Golden Bears.
Saving their season Monday night with a stunning rally against Baylor was nothing. They faced even longer odds a few months ago, when they rescued their program from extinction.
"I'm so proud of this team," coach David Esquer said. "To see them experience and work hard and going through what we've gone through and to see them on the field and knowing that is what's it all about, that's rewarding as a coach."
The Golden Bears (35-21) opened the season thinking it might be the last for a school that won the very first College World Series against President George H.W. Bush's Yale team in 1947. Now they're heading to the NCAA super regionals for the first time against Dallas Baptist (42-18) in perhaps the most intriguing of this weekend's eight best-of-three series — alive and well, thanks to a massive fundraising effort that recently reinstated the program.
It's been a special season for California, which is two wins from its first College World Series appearance since 1992 after pulling off a four-run rally in the bottom of the ninth inning that gave the Golden Bears a 9-8 victory over Baylor.
"Holy cow," Esquer said after the win. "I say I believe it because in the dugout I was saying, 'Hey, we could do this,' but when it actually happened, I don't know if I believed it."
California and Dallas Baptist, also a super regionals newcomer, will square off starting Saturday at Santa Clara's Stephen Schott Stadium — technically a neutral site for both because, in part, neither had adequate facilities to host a super regional.
Other super regional series that start Saturday are: UC Irvine (42-16) at Virginia (52-9), Connecticut (45-18-1) at South Carolina (48-14) and Texas A&M (45-19) at Florida State (45-17).
Series that begin today include: Stanford (35-20) at North Carolina (48-14), Mississippi State (37-23) at Florida (48-16), Oregon State (41-17) at Vanderbilt (50-10) and Arizona State (42-16) at Texas (47-16).
Like California, Dallas Baptist is used to the underdog role. The Patriots have been a Division I team for just six seasons and are an independent, unaffiliated with a conference — though they will become an affilate member of the Missouri Valley Conference next spring. But they are hardly lacking talent. Outfielder Jason Krizan made headlines earlier this season with a 39-game hitting streak, which tied for 11th-longest in Division I history. He also set an NCAA mark with 39 doubles — and counting.
Still, this is Dallas Baptist's second NCAA appearance, and along the way, the Patriots got their first win — a 3-2 victory over Oklahoma in 10 innings — and knocked off TCU and Oral Roberts to get here. Dallas Baptist also joined Miami as the only independent teams to make it to the super regionals.
"I don't know that it's really sunk in," coach Dan Heefner said after his team's regional-clinching victory over Oral Roberts on Monday. "Our focus is always on the next game and the next pitch. It's always been a great program at DBU, but this is a whole new level."
"This is a great accomplishment, and we're very proud of it," Hultzen said. "But at the same time, we know we are not even close to being done yet."