They didn’t win the regular season conference championship (Sonoma.) They didn’t win the post-season conference tournament (UCSD,) yet, they still found what they were looking for.
The Chico State baseball captured the program’s 9th West Region Championship by beating a tough UC San Diego squad 3-1 on Sunday afternoon in La Jolla. Don’t let Chico’s 4-0 record at the regional fool you, this was an absolute dog-fight, and will prepare the Cats for the D-II World Series in Cary, North Carolina this coming weekend.
Chico needed a bolt of lightning from Danny Miller in the regional opener to beat Dixie State 5-4. They needed a mistake-proof performance from Marcos Lara in their 2-0 win over Cal Baptist and they had to employ every ounce of guts and guile to beat the top-seeded Tritons on Saturday in the winner’s bracket game 6-5.
Sunday’s championship was an exercise in tension and nerves. Both Chico and UCSD wasted great chances to score early. Chico grabbed an early 1-0 lead, only to have the home-standing Tritons tie in the 6th at 1-1. Then in the 7th inning UCSD buckled, and Chico State took advantage.
Early in the game Chico’s best two defensive players made errors, but the Tritons could not take advantage of the extra outs and stranded runners. But, in the 7th with the game hanging in the balance a ground ball found it’s way between the legs of normally sure-handed Erik Lewis and Chico took a 2-1 lead. Then, Dave Taylor pulled the proverbial rabbit out of the hat. With a two-strike count on his 3-hole hitter Ruben Padilla he called for the first-and-third run down play.
He had baserunner Eric Angerer get just far enough off of first base to draw a throw. Normally catchers hold the ball, OR may realize the play is a deke. Chico wanted a throw to first base, and they got it. As soon as San Diego catcher Brett Levy released the ball, Wildcat base-runner Ryne Clark came tearing down from third sliding home giving Chico a 3-1 lead.
Chico’s shut-down bullpen with Robert Hook and West Regional MVP Luke Barker would shut the door on San Diego and send Chico State to Cary.
The goal this year, and every year is to win the West Region championship. As you read here a few weeks back, these lofty goals are what drives this program. So, while Chico didn’t attain a regular season, or conference tourney title. They achieved what they set out to do. The Chico State program has now won 5 regular season CCAA titles. They have won 3 CCAA Tournament crowns and now have won 9 West Region titles since 1997.
The Wildcats now head to Cary and the Division II College World Series. It’s the pinnacle of the baseball season. The Mecca if you will. The National Baseball Headquarters is a wonderful place to play and enjoy this game that we all love. It’s a just reward for a team that bought into team. Embraced their roles. Relished being teammates, and will now shift their focus toward a National Championship on one of baseball’s biggest stages.
The ride continues. Can’t wait for my first sip of Carolina sweet tea !!