For three games and part of a fourth this postseason, no one could figure out Texas A&M pitcher Michael Wacha.
After four innings in Tuesday’s Bracket Two elimination game, California coach David Esquer gathered his group together to get back to its plan of attack.
“With two strikes, we were a little reckless,” Esquer said. “I told them I’d take bad contact to the middle of the diamond rather than trying to make something good happen up against the (outfield) fence.
“(I said) ‘Let’s act like we belong here against this guy.’ ”
The Golden Bears broke through with three unearned runs against Wacha in the fifth inning, then added three more in the sixth and yet another in the seventh to extend their stay at the College World Series with a 7-3 victory before 18,141 fans at TD Ameritrade Park.
No. 9 hitter Derek Campbell had two RBI singles and scored another run to help propel Cal (38-22) into Thursday’s 6 p.m. elimination game with the loser of Tuesday’s late game between South Carolina and Virginia.
Wacha (9-4) had allowed only two earned runs in 20 1/3 innings (an 0.89 ERA) while going 2-0 in the NCAA tournament before Tuesday. The right-hander had allowed only one hit before things started unraveling in the fifth.
“(Esquer) told us to stick to our approach,” Campbell said. “Just sting it hard up the middle and make them make a play.”
The Bears had five two-strike hits, including both of Campbell’s, and had two other hits on no-ball, one-strike pitches.
“Cal’s hitters did an amazing job in advantage counts,” Texas A&M coach Rob Childress said. “We just didn’t make pitches. And if we did, Cal didn’t miss them.”
The Aggies’ improved defense — they were second in the Big 12 with a .976 fielding percentage — contributed to Wacha’s demise.
Chad Bunting started the go-ahead rally with a sharply-hit grounder to Adam Smith. The junior third baseman, who had staked the Aggies to a 1-0 lead with a fourth-inning homer, appeared to have it under control. But Smith juggled it for an instant, then overthrew first on what was scored a two-base throwing error.
Darrel Matthews followed with a single to left center to bring up Campbell, whose single up the middle scored Bunting. When center fielder Krey Bratsen bobbled Campbell’s hit, Matthews scored, too.
“I guess it kind of got me off my groove a little bit, but credit to the Cal hitters,” Wacha said, when asked about fielding miscues behind him. “They just hit everything I threw up there. ... I could have gotten out of the inning if I’d made better pitches.”
With Campbell on third, Tony Renda hit a fly ball to shallow right field. Third-base coach Tony Arnerich sent Campbell home as Tyler Naquin — strong-armed and accurate — made an uncharacteristic high throw home.
“We knew we weren’t going to be able to play passive,” Esquer said. “We were going to have to maybe take some chances. I think Tony just kind of sensed the moment ... even though that’s probably the best arm in the outfield.”
Cal poured it on in the sixth, taking a 6-1 lead on Mitch Delfino’s RBI double and run-scoring singles by Bunting and Campbell.
Cal was 6 for 9 with two sacrifices in an 11-batter stretch before the Aggies finally sent potential relievers into the bullpen.
Cal freshman left-hander Kyle Porter (6-0) got the win, allowing three runs on seven hits in six innings. Matt Flemer struck out five while working the final three innings for his sixth save.
After the error to open the fifth, Cal hitters went 8 for 13 with three sacrifices against Wacha, who allowed seven runs — four earned — on nine hits in 62/3 innings.
“He was hitting his spots,” Campbell said of Wacha. “He was on, keeping it low, trying to get us to bite on the low stuff. Early on we were, but we made an adjustment.
“If we stick to our approach, I don’t think there’s any pitcher who can get us.”