They had come such a long way, and here it was, Chico State was going to win their third National Championship in ten years.
At one point during the regular season their head coach had told the local media that he couldn’t wait until he could bring in new players because this group was so disappointing. After playing .500 baseball for the first two months of the season, Chico State needed to be flawless just to get into the post-season.
They nearly were.
Chico State would go on the maddest of dashes over the final four weeks of the season playing themselves not only into CCAA contention but regional consideration as well. The Cats would win the CCAA Tournament and the West Regional to punch their ticket to the Division II College World Series.
Chico would survive game one against Emporia State, winning by a score of 2-1. In game two the Cats would need 13 innings to dispose of Ashland University 8-4. They would beat Ashland again setting up their title tilt against the pre-tournament favorite Tampa University. Tampa had been pushed to the limit as well, but had emerged unscathed. The last time the two teams had met at the D-II College World Series Chico had eliminated Tampa in 1997 4-2 behind the gutsy pitching of John-Eric Hernandez who had shut down the vaunted Spartans over seven innings on three days rest.
Now, the Wildcats and Tampa were meeting again for the National Championship. Early on Chico dodged numerous bullets as Tampa squandered opportunities. Chico would get an early run, only to see Tampa tie it up. In the bottom of the 8th inning Chico State’s Daniel Code would ground a single into right field bringing home the lead run and giving Chico State a 2-1 lead. All of a sudden the Wildcats were three outs away from ecstasy.
After the first two hitter made outs, Chico could feel the most improbable of championships at their door-step. A team that had been buried in late May by their head coach Lindsay Meggs was now one strike away from a National Title.
It’s a strike that would never come.
After consecutive hits by Tampa with two strikes, the Spartans would get a tying single through the six-hole.
Tampa would eventually score the winning run in the top of the 10th. Chico would get a two-out double from Chad Williams in the bottom of the 10th, when Jerin Harper bounced a chopper to short, the game would be over and the dream had died. Tampa had won the National Championship.
Years later former head coach and current University of Washington head coach Meggs would tell the Seattle Times that he told his wife, “I don’t know if I can do this anymore.” It would be the last game Meggs would coach at Chico State.
So, as Chico State gets ready to suit up against Tampa in Monday morning’s elimination game, the goings-on of eight years ago may seem like a distant memory, if even a memory at all. But, for those of us that witnessed that night, it will never be forgotten. It is a game one never gets completely over……EVER.
It has taken 8 years, but finally Chico State gets to try and exact a measure of revenge on a team, on a program that dealt them the bitterest of pills eight years ago this week.