As much ambivalence as I have toward the celebratory dogpile, I still can’t get enough of the excitement of post-season baseball. Like the fly to the bug zapper I was drawn down to San Diego to see the D2 West Regional Final between Chico State and UC San Diego. It was great to see a battle between two traditional west coast powers and with so much on the line. It’s what gets me geeked at this time of year.
And the bonus of it all?… The traffic was actually wide open to and from Smogtown and I didn’t have a single dose of gridlock. Tastes great, less filling. Ahhhh.
WHAT I SAW AT TRITON BALLPARK
It was only fitting to see the two most dominant teams in the West take on each other with a trip to the D2 College World Series in Cary, North Carolina on the line. It wasn’t the most exciting game of the season, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t interesting, hard-fought, contentious and heart-breaking all in one. Glad I made the trek down.
Chico St. – 001 000 200 – 3 8 2
U.C.S.D. – 000 001 000 – 1 6 2
WP: Robert Hook, 8-2
LP: David Hart, 1-1
Save: Luke Barker, 18
- Peter Miller, 2-for-4, 2B
- Connor Huesers, 2-for-4
- Michael Mann, 2-for-3
- Garrett Tuck, 1-for-4, RBI
Chico State – 43-13
UC San Diego – 38-16
IN A NUTSHELL:
For those of you Division One snobs out there, these two programs both play in the California Collegiate Athletic Association. In fact, in this six-team West Regional, three of the teams were CCAA members in Chico, UCSD, regular season champion Sonoma State and fourth place finisher Cal Poly Pomona. Man, if four teams from Division I were thrown into the same Regional there would be a call for the heads of the Selection Committee on stakes.
But these two were the best teams this weekend. The Tritons came into today’s game having outscored their opponents in the Regional 42-16. But they had lost the first showdown with the Wildcats in Saturday’s winner’s bracket game 6-5. In that game, the Wildcats came back from a 5-3 deficit by scoring three 7th-inning runs and then relied on the stealth pitching of reliever Robert Hook to pull out the win.
Today, it was a very similar recipe, keep the game close and then bury the Tritons in the 7th inning. But today’s game was much more painful for UCSD. In fact, even though the game went the full nine innings, it was a couple of free bases and an infield gaffe on what would’ve been the third out which ended up being the decisive play in the game. (Yes, I know, even though it’s widely known that one play does not a game make.)
The Tritons have to be kicking themselves by getting two outs but then plunking the 8-hole hitter Daniel Miller, walking leadoff man Ryne Clark and then having a routine grounder go through the wickets, allowing the game-winning run to cross the plate in the form of Cody Slader. A second run scored on a 1st-and-3rd steal of home plate as Ryne Clark scored from third after Eric Angerer bluffed a late steal of 2nd base.
The Wildcat bullpen sealed things up from there as Robert Hook and Luke Barker allowed only a pair of infield hits – one in the bottom of the 7th, one in the 8th – as the Tritons were never given much more of a glimmer of light.
UCSD head coach Eric Newman.
- When asked to sum up the season:
“It’s tough to sum up the season without pointing out how outstanding these players have been all season long. These guys bought in and did tremendous work from the first day. I challenged them to out-work each other, to be a team and they did that. I have to credit the seniors for their leadership, they were phenomenal. There are not words I can use to express the respect and the pride I have for this team.”
- On what he told his team after the game:
“I just told them how proud of was of them. How outstanding they were all year. How much i appreciated the work they put in and how they came together as a team. As a coach that’s the most you can ask for is for them to become a team. We became that and it showed, especially down the second half of the season and the post-season. As a coach, that’s what you take pride in.”
- On the state of the program after this, his third season:
“I think I would answer that question by saying that we’ve had great players come through here that have held that tradition high. This group of seniors exemplify what this tradition and this pride of the program is all about. I expect us to continue, going forward.”
Chico State head coach Dave Taylor.
- On the key to today’s win:
“I thought Misty (Alex Mistuloff) did a nice job to come out and put up zeroes for five innings. That allowed us to go to Robert Hook and allowed us to go to Luke Barker. Three-to-one against these guys who have hit the ball all over the yard all weekend, to hold them to one run today even with the wind blowing out, we pitched well today, that was the key for us today. We made a couple of errors, but we made plays when we had to. And when they made a mistake, we capitalized. That’s something we talked about all week, capitalizing on a good teams’ mistakes and that’s what we did.”
- The evolution of this year’s team:
“Going back to a year ago today, making that 13-hour bus ride back to Chico… these guys don’t forget that. Not that we were thinking about having to do that again but it’s in the back of our minds, it was in the back of my mind I know that. After we got back last year, we lost 18 seniors off that team, so the recruiting process was to find 18-to-20 guys who can get us back to this tournament and give us another try. That’s what we do. Our ultimate team goal was to win the West Region. Now we’ll go back and reassess on Monday of what our next goals will be.”
- On the type of players he gets to his program:
“On the recruiting trips guys come in and see the trophies on the wall and they come here because they want a piece of that. Getting the right guys to buy in is the key. We had the highest GPA of any team we’ve ever had, they were great citizens off the field and that’s what makes them so fun to hang around.”
- On how this team is different.
“Luke hit it on the head when he says these guys trust each other and hold each other accountable. I sit back and manage and tell them when to be at practice, but these guys hold each other accountable and they answer to their pears. And that’s a pretty neat thing to be around, they trust each other and believe in each other. These guys are special to me. Yes, they are my players but I can talk to them like adults, I can treat them like adults. These guys will be my good friends down the road”
Chico State’s closer Luke Barker:
- On his role today in picking up his 18th save:
“Our whole team is built around trust. And for these guys to trust me to go out late in games and hold down a lead to win games, that’s a great honor for me. I was glad I was able to do that today for us.”
- On going back to Cary and how they’ll approach it this time:
“When we went last time (in 2012) it was all new to us and our eyes were kind of wide open. There are only a couple of us back from that 2012 team, and I’m excited for the new guys to experience it. But we also know that we went 2-and-a-Q last time and that’s not good enough. That plane ticket we won today wasn’t why we all came to Chico State. We came here to put a ring on our finger so that’s our goal this time.”
Chico State reliever Robert Hook
- Talking about the potent lineup he faced today:
“I faced them earlier in the season and they kind of got to me. So I knew I had to pitch better. I was thinking about fastball and I’ve been working on my two-seam a little bit more. I was able to get some ground ball outs and the guys behind me made plays.”
- The NCAA D2 Tournament consists of 48 teams, with eight, six-team Regionals going on around the country. This West Regional had (in seeding order) UCSD, Chico State, Cal Baptist, Cal Poly Pomona, Dixie State (Utah) and Sonoma State (Calif). And talk about a funnel effect, no other teams West of Colorado made the field of 48, so they were all stacked in this Regional in San Diego.
- D2′s No. 1 overall seed is Tampa, who won the South Regional on their home field and now head to Cary with an overall record of 50-2. Not a typo.
- Chico State and UCSD are both veterans of the post-season. The Wildcats were making their 15th NCAA Tournament appearance in the last 19 seasons and 17th overall. The Tritons were in the D2 Big Dance for the seventh time, having six straight times from 2006 to 2012.
- This was also Chico State’s third straight Regional final appearance in the West Regional, having last won their way to the College World Series in 2012. The Wildcats have also now won nine West Regional titles in the past 18 years.
- After getting plunked in the 1st inning, Chico State 1st baseman Eric Angerer set the school record for hit-by-pitches with his 58th career dose. That ranks 14th overall in NCAA D2 history.
- Other than a brief two-year stint as head coach of Cal State LA in 2005-to-2006, head coach Dave Taylor has been at Chico State since 1997. He was the long time pitching coach until becoming head coach in 2007. Since then, he has led the Cats to 40+ wins four times in his eight years.
- Interestingly, coach Taylor was a former Division I head baseball coach as well. In 1995-1996 he was the head coach for Wyoming, before the program was dropped after that ’96 season.
- Even though they kicked around a pair of sharp grounders today, Chico State is the nation’s top defensive team in D2 with a fielding percentage of .979.
- UCSD tallied season-highs in runs and hits in Friday’s 20-5 rout of Cal Poly Pomona. Cleanup man Justin Rahn had two home runs, including a grand slam, and eight RBI on the day. Today Rahn was held in check, going 0-for-3 with a walk.
MY PHOTOGRAPHY MAKES ANOTHER NEWSPAPER… or rather a newspaper’s online edition.
Yeah, this isn’t anything worthy of a Billy Bad Ass Award, but it was nice to get contacted after the game I was contacted by Travis Souders at the Chico Enterprise Record asking me if it was okay to use my pic I took after the game for their article. If you wanna see the shot and read a much better write-up on the game, click your mouse here and enjoy Travis’ work.
A few more visuals from the game…
OH, AND JACKSON STATE WON THE SWAC TITLE.
Since I was there in New Orleans earlier this week, it was great to hear that Jackson State ended up outlasting the field and winning the SWAC conference tournament with a 9-8 win over Alabama State today. Though the game wasn’t on live TV, the title game will be shown on ESPNU on Monday night. Check it out if you can. Can’t wait to see how they did it… but something tells me that multi-faceted Desmond Russell had something to do with it.