All seasons come to an end, it’s inescapable. But you don’t want them ending like this.
The Chico State Wildcat baseball team’s momentous 2014 campaign came to a screeching halt on Monday as they were the first team eliminated from the Division II College World Series.
This was not how it was supposed to end. The Cats had entered the World Series playing some great baseball. Their four-game sojourn in La Jolla showed Chico State at their best. Great pitching, spectacular defense, timely hits, well-executed bunts, and the grinding mentality that has become a hallmark of this program. But, Chico looked nothing like THAT team in Cary and head coach Dave Taylor addressed that fact after the game.
“At the end of the day our goal is to get here,” said Taylor. “We need to get better as a coaching staff to be make sure we play better when when we do get here.”
Great coaches take the bullets for their teams. Taylor did that on Monday. The Chico State Wildcat program at one point was 13-3 at the NCAA Championships, but since their 2002 title game appearance the Wildcats are 3-8, including four appearances where Chico State has been ousted after only two games.
What has changed ?
To be blunt, teams are better. From 1997-2002 Chico State went to the tournament and only had to worry about four or five of the regions competing for a National Title. That has completely changed. All eight regions are competitive now, and they play a brand of baseball that is similar to the Wildcats small-ball philosophy. Teams from the North and Northeast used to be push-overs, but now they are fundamentally sound, more crisp in their games, and are not easy to play anymore.
The bigger question for Coach T and his staff is why the Wildcats are able to perform at highest of levels in regionals as they did in 2012-2014, only to get to the World Series and flame out. I have no explanation for it. Common sense tells you that the regionals are more pressure-packed than the World Series. Maybe it’s that proverbial foot-off-the-pedal mentality, that deep breath after the regional that takes away Chico’s mental edge. I haven’t spoken with Taylor yet, but he would probably be hard-pressed to have an answer.
In Chico’s last four games, all losses at the College World Series the Wildcats have been nearly no-hit by West Chester, committed four errors in an elimination loss to Minnesota State 6-5. Walked five, hit five, committed two errors and two bad base-running mistakes in a 6-4 loss to Lander and yesterday were completely over-whelmed by Tampa 14-6. While Tampa banged out 19 hits, Chico State gave away 6 runs with mis-plays that we just don’t see during the regular season. Over Chico’s last three World Series games they have committed 10 errors. They committed 45 errors in 56 games this entire season coming into the tournament. Is this just a two-year anamoly ? Chico hopes so.
The Cats now have a five game losing streak at Division II College World Series. The streak started with that gut-wrenching Championship Game loss to Tampa in 2006.
In closing if the Chico State baseball program wasn’t so great we wouldn’t be lamenting their struggles at the Division II College World Series. Think about that for a moment. We are asking this question with a straight face. Why are the Wildcats struggling at the College World Series ? It’s almost comical to think about it. There is not another school in West Region baseball that wouldn’t want the Chico State Wildcat pedigree. 9 West Region titles in 18 years. Nearly two decades of greatness. But, with that greatness comes the expectation of winning and having that transcendent performance translate to the baseball’s biggest stage.
That’s what needs to be figured out, and honestly, I don’t know if there is an answer.