Be honest, you didn’t think they could do this. Be honest, No fibs here people. After a tumultuous and sometimes rocky ride the 2016 Chico State Wildcats baseball team silenced the doubters and in turn wrote their own glorious chapter in Chico State baseball lore.
With four wins in four days, squeezed around a gut-wrenching loss the Cats summoned the guts and guile of some of Chico State’s greatest teams. The Wildcats have punched their ticket to the NCAA West Regional.
Chico State not only limped into the conference tournament, they needed a walker. Chico had dropped 5 of 8 against two sub .500 teams and had lost 13 of 22 over a five-week stretch. Even the greatest of optimists would have been pushing the envelope in thinking the Wildcats could turn the table.
In the end, this is a story about a team that refused to be deterred, refused to let recent poor performance dictate their current circumstance and a team that showed a toughness and resiliency that has been a hallmark of the Chico State program.
In winning the school’s fourth CCAA Conference Tournament title the Wildcats exorcised numerous demons from the previous three months. Their win over Pomona avenged a 9-2 shellacking where CCAA Pitcher of the Year Michael Koval threw a three-hitter over 8 innings out-pitching Clayton Gelfand. This time Gelfand twirled 7 gutty innings, not giving up an earned run and holding Pomona to 1-for-16 hitting with runners on base and 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position.
Their win over Monterey Bay signaled the signature moment for sophomore starter Hunter Haworth. He not only won two must-win contests against Sonoma and Stanislaus over the last couple of weeks, but he shoved against the power hitting Otters. Haworth scattered five hits over 8 innings and carved up a potent Monterey line-up.
The win over East Bay on Friday night was a performance for the ages by Steven Baker. The right-hander had lost six straight decisions, primarily out of the bullpen. His gem came just a day after surrendering a game tying double to UC San Diego with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the 9th inning. But Baker shoved all of that aside and shut-down the conference’s best-hitting team, limiting East Bay to 7 hits and 2 runs over seven and a third innings as Chico played themselves into the title game with a 4-2 win.
There are not enough superlatives we can shower on Wildcat reliever Grant Wright. The submarining right-hander took the ball in the fourth inning of the title game on Saturday, pitching in his fifth straight game and for the fourth straight day. Wright pitched 5 innings of one run ball before tiring in the 9th. But, his tenacity and bulldog demeanor signified a sea-change for this 2016 team.
Historically this is a program that doesn’t get “excited” by CCAA Tournament championships. There hasn’t always been an emphasis put on this tournament, but this year was different. Chico State played so poorly down the stretch that their regional lives were hanging in the balance. There were scenarios that if Chico went 0-2 or even 1-2 in this tournament that they would not be going to the regional. Faced with the prospect of folding and completing an epic collapse, the Wildcats instead chose to fight, to dig deep, to grind, to “figure it out” as a club. No one could do it for them. This was all about those guys in that uniform. So, while we all celebrate them and what our favorite baseball team accomplished. I think this group should take great pride in the fact that they rescued a season that was sinking fast. They went on a run against some very good teams and played at a championship level. I for one see no reason why they can’t continue this amazing run.
A week ago Wildcat faithful were lamenting a series loss to Stanislaus State. But now, here we sit, with a banner that will hang from the rafters of Acker. I put nothing past this group. They remind me of another group of ne’er do wells, the 2006 Wildcats. Supremely talented, frustrating at times, but gutty and hard-nosed. Each and every time that team was counted out, they responded, they refused to give in. This group has had a ton of chances to do the same thing, they haven’t quit.
There has been nothing easy about this season. The players will tell you that, the coaches will tell you that, the fans, heck even the broadcaster, but I would rather go to battle with a group that has been tested, then a team that has faced no adversity all season long. No one can ever take away the last four days from this group. This feat belongs to them. And now they have a chance to add a chapter or two to this amazing story.
*PHOTO COURTESY OF CHICO STATE ATHLETICS VISIT THEIR WEBSITE AT CHICOWILDCATS.COM