Chico State blows out top-seed Cal State Monterey Bay in regional opener
ST. GEORGE, Utah -- The Chico State baseball team knew Jeffrey the “wild”cat was a good omen. The Wildcats didn’t know just how good. Jeffrey, a one-time stray cat, lives in the storage room next to the Dixie State dugout. The Wildcats were immediately pleased to meet him.
A little less than three hours later, after the Wildcats’ 14-3 drubbing of top-seeded Cal State Monterey Bay in the opening game of the NCAA Championship Tournament West Regional, they were more than pleased.
Pierson Jeremiah hit a grand slam among his four hits and Nick Baker allowed just two hits in seven innings at Bruce Hurst Field on the campus of Dixie State University.
Chico State will face the loser of Thursday’s Dixie State-Grand Canyon Friday during second-round action.
Jeffrey was a good omen for reasons beyond his particular species. The Wildcats just didn’t know it at the time. As it turns out, he’s persevered through some trying times, just as the Wildcats have.
According to folks in the Dixie State press box, Jeffrey was removed from the facility and taken three miles away. But he eventually found his way back home. He also survived a lonely stretch in which no one was around to provide food, drinks, or a friendly pet, before former Wildcats assistant coach Chris Pfatenhauer was hired to take over the program.
He lost some weight but never waivered.
The Wildcats had lost eight of 10 and 10 of 14 entering this tournament. But they didn’t waiver on Thursday.
“We hit a little bit of a bump… probably a little bigger than we thought,” said Wildcats Head Coach Dave Taylor. “But we had a little attitude and a little swagger today.”
Jeremiah hit his first home run as a Wildcat in the third inning to give Chico State a 4-1 lead it would not relinquish.
“I still can’t believe it,” said Jeremiah immediately after the game. He echoed the statement in the postgame press conference.
Chico State loaded the bases on a leadoff hit by Jake Bailey and bunt singles by Cody Slader and Ryne Clark.
Jeremiah turned on a hanging curveball and hit a no-doubter over the 12-foot high wall in left field.
Actually, one person had some doubts.
“I had no idea if it was going out,” said Jeremiah. “I hit one like that one time before, but it went off the wall.”
It was the first grand slam of Jeremiah’s life.
The Wildcats took the long road to a seven-run rally in the fifth, essentially putting the game away.
Just Cody Webber’s RBI grounder plated the first run and then Ruben Padilla put down a perfect squeeze bunt to help stoke the rally.
Padilla was making just his second start of the season.
“I’ve been waiting the whole season for a chance,” said Padilla. “Coach kept telling me I was going to get my opportunity. I’m happy it came today.”
Bailey added a run-scoring single and Clark contributed an RBI double in the inning.
“We knew if we got a couple runs with Nick out there we’d be in good hands,” said Taylor.
Baker allowed just two hits in seven strong innings to improve to 8-3 with his first collegiate postseason victory. The junior walked two, struck out two and retired the final nine batters he faced.
“With that big lead I knew I could trust the defense and try to make them hit it,” said Baker. “The defense played great behind me.”
Baker got 15 groundball outs.
Chico State improved to 35-16 while Cal State Monterey Bay, the regular season California Collegiate Athletic Association regular-season champion, fell to 38-16.
“We were the best team in the West coming in, but that doesn’t get you anything when it comes to this regional,” said Cal State Monterey Bay Coach Walt White.
Bailey, Clark and Eric Angerer finished with two hits apiece for the Wildcats. But the hero of the day was Jeremiah.
“That’s how it’s supposed to happen,” said Taylor. “The kind of guy he is -- he should be rewarded. This game rewards guys like Pierson. He’s the first guy there every day and you have to shoo him out of the cages at night.”
Sounds a little bit like Jeffrey the cat.