Semien’s Cinderella Story

Marcus Semien (right) helped Cal reach last year’s College World Series (George Nikitin/Associated Press).

A “Cinderella Story,” the sports term for an underdog who defies all odds. With their entire program on the line, the University of California baseball team took this term to a new level in their 2011 season. Dash shortstop Marcus Semien helped the Golden Bears shock the nation by not only saving the program but also making it to the College World Series.

At the beginning of his junior season at Cal, Semien received the sudden announcement that this would likely be the last year of baseball for the Golden Bears.

“I was more worried about the freshmen and sophomores,” the shortstop said about his reaction to the news. “I didn’t want them to have to transfer.” However, three of his teammates did leave the Golden Bears.

The rest of the team had a daunting task ahead of them to save the program. They needed to raise 10 million dollars in order to sustain the program for the long term.

However, the team could not raise the money themselves. “It was more the people behind the scenes, like the parents and alumni, that helped [raise the money],” Semien said.

While their supporters were busy fundraising, the Cal baseball team had to concentrate on the season. Cal had a 7-0 shutout and a 6-5 walk-off victory in their opening series against Utah, creating a small preview of their soon-to-be remarkable season.

Midway through their season, Cal baseball was reinstated after raising over $9 million in pledged donations. But the program’s good fortunes did not stop there. Cal finished with a record of 30-21 overall and 13-13 in the Pac-10 conference, which is known to be a very strong league in college baseball.

The Golden Bears would not settle for just a solid regular season. They had one more thing set on their mind–Omaha, the site of the College World Series.

“That had always been our goal,” Semien said.

The Golden Bears celebrate their trip to Omaha (Photo courtesy of Golden Bear Lair).

Their road to Omaha wasn’t an easy one. Cal lost to Baylor in the first round of regional play, throwing them into the losing bracket. The Golden Bears did emerge from the losers bracket, defeating Alcorn State, Rice and Baylor in the process.

Thus, Cal earned its way to the Super Regionals against Dallas Baptist, eventually sweeping the series in Santa Clara, Calif. “We were just an hour away from our home,” Semien said. “So it was pretty much our crowd. It was a pretty fun Super Regional.”

And then there was Omaha. By this time, the Golden Bears had already captivated every sports fan in the nation with their story. “We knew we were the underdogs and we had a lot of fans behind us up there,” Semien said.

Losing their first game 4-1 to top-ranked Virginia once again pushed the Bears into the losers bracket. Like during their Regional Championship, the Bears stayed alive for another game after beating Texas A&M 7-3.

Their dream of a national championship fell short, though, when they faced Virginia once again in the second round. The Golden Bears lost 8-1 and the “Cinderella Story” came to an end.

Cal may not have won a national championship, but they did give Semien a season he will never forget.

“Making it to Omaha and playing in front of 25,000 people, it was the best feeling ever,” Semien said. “Especially with everything we went through that year.”

– Costner Merrifield

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