WEST REGION TITLE ON THE LINE TODAY
For the second time in as many years the Chico State Wildcats have put themselves in position to win a West Region Championship, this time they are determined not to let it slip away.
By winning the first three games of this regional the Wildcats have one simple task remaining here in La Jolla. Win one game today. That’s it, win one game and this greatest of Division II programs on the west coast will be making their 9th trip to the Division II College World Series in 18 years.
Even with the advantage of having two games to win one today, the Wildcats should not want to use that extra game. Finish this thing, be done with it. As they learned last year against eventual region champ Grand Canyon, anything can happen in one game.
Chico will be taking on a team in UC San Diego today that started out trying to emulate them in 2004 under former head coach Dan O’Brien. They built their program in those early days as a club that at times seemed to be a carbon copy of the Wildcats. Fundamentally sound, solid defense, good pitching, great at-bats and grinders. For a time they emerged as the team to beat in the CCAA. And now, for the first time in this glorious rivalry, these two great schools, UC San Diego and Chico State play for a west region title.
UC San Diego disposed of Cal Baptist last night 14-5 and eliminated the Lancers. The Tritons scored 20 runs against Pomona on Friday and 14 last night against Cal Baptist. But, in their loss against Chico State the Wildcats were able to hold them to five runs, all while gutting out a three run 7th inning rally to win a thriller 6-5 in the all important winner’s bracket game.
Chico State will have two chances to win one game against the Tritons. Coming into this title tilt the pitching depth of both of these squads will be tested. Right now the Chico State Wildcats are in better shape in that department. San Diego’s Dan Kolodin was able to eat up innings in last night’s blowout against the Lancers. It could have been much worse for head coach Erik Newman’s team if it was a close game and he had to use some of his prime time arms in an elimination game. Let’s look at who he has left….
First, Blake Fassler was a starter all year, but it appears has been shut down with arm issues. If he pitches it will be a major surprise considering his two inning outing in Stockton last week. Trevor Scott pitched on Thursday and threw 7.1 innings of shut-out baseball. He threw 112 pitches. I fully expect to see him appear today if the Tritons need him. For how long ? Only Newman knows that. Troy Cruz is another arm we should probably see today, especially if there is a second game. Cruz pitched in UCSD’s blowout on Friday against Pomona and only had to throw 67 pitches. He has been effective against the Wildcats, although Chico did rough him up in the CCAA Conference Tourney in Stockton last weekend, banging out five straight hits against him and scoring five runs in the 6th inning.
Out of the Triton bullpen we should see a steady diet of David Hart, left-hander Chad Rieser and closer Scott Zeman. Zeman has been used sparingly and I fully expect the Tritons to have him shoulder a load today.
For Chico State they are set up about as well as one could hope for Title Sunday. They have a few options heading into this one. Most likely they go with Alex Mistuloff in-game one. Mistuloff was great against Pomona at the CCAA Tourney going 5.2 innings and giving up only 2 runs. He is a power pitcher with movement and when he is on, has nasty stuff. The Wildcat pen had to extend a bit yesterday in the win over San Diego, but it was worth since they brought home the win. Robert Hook and Luke Barker both worked two-plus innings but should be available to throw multiple innings out of the pen today if needed. The Wildcats also have Drew Freeman back, after a bout with mono. But, with Freeman being on the shelf for a month, they may not try to push him too hard, unless his services are desperately needed.
This is the biggest baseball day of the year for Chico State, so if the situation warrants we will see Chico ace Nick Baker and possibly senior Marcos Lara on one day’s rest. You save your guys to get to this point. If there is a day to call on every ounce of reserve energy, today is that day.
Offensively the Tritons have been in one word: ridiculous. 34 runs in two wins over Pomona and Cal Baptist. But, Sonoma held them scoreless for six innings on Thursday and Chico State was able to hold them to five runs yesterday. The Tritons terrorize the fastball. If you rely on the straight stuff they will pound you into submission. You NEED to mix it up against their stacked order. Keys to victory, you must keep Brandon Shirley and Erik Lewis off base. Chico did not do a good job of that yesterday and it almost cost them. These two table-setters make it happen for UCSD giving Nick LaFace, Justin Rahn, Troy Cruz and company opportunities with runners on base. Like the 85 Cardinals, keep Coleman and McGee off base, and your chances to beat them rise exponentially.
For Chico State they are swinging the bats as well as they have all season. It took awhile for them to come up with the big hits with runners on base yesterday, but when they did, they came in bunches. Chico will need to score runs today and they will need to put some crooked numbers on the board. They have gotten a huge boost from the power surges of Tyler Madrid and Danny Miller and they will lean on those two guys again today to rise to the occasion. Senior leader Eric Angerer leads the team with 10 hits in the post-season. And, when lead-off hitter Ryne Clark reaches base it gives Chico a ton of options offensively with his speed and athleticism.
The great intangible in this match-up is Chico’s defense. They have shown throughout this tournament why they are the top ranked defense in the country. Connor Huesers pegging UCSD’s Garrett Tuck at the plate yesterday was a game-saving and game-defining play. The Wildcats defense has been able to minimize the damage all season long, it will need to be as good today.
The Chico State Wildcats have won 42 games because they can pitch, play spectacular defense, bunt and be clutch when they need to be clutch.
Today the Chico State Wildcats look to finish a journey that began with the final heart-wrenching out of the 2013 campaign in St. George, Utah. There is a group of upper-classmen for Chico State that have made it their one solitary goal to get back to this very point and complete the task.
Game on gentleman. Game on