The Chico State baseball team's postseason run came to an end Sunday afternoon, as they lost the NCAA Div. 2 Western Regional Championship to Grand Canyon.
Chico State had yet to lose in the Western Regional which started Thursday in St. George, Utah. The Wildcats could have taken the championship with a win in Sunday's first game against Grand Canyon.
But the Antelopes defeated the Wildcats 9-6, forcing a second game Sunday afternoon. The same two teams faced off for the championship.
Chico State found hits hard to come by, dropping the second game by a final of 6-2.
Grand Canyon advances to the Div. 2 College Baseball World Series in Cary, North Carolina.
The Antelopes rallied from a run behind in the eighth to win the first game 9-6 and force a second game, which they won 6-2 to claim the title at Bruce Hurst Field on the campus of Dixie State College.
“To come all the way back like we did in the first game and then give it up, that’s a tough thing for 21/22 year-olds to recover from,” said Wildcats Head Coach Dave Taylor. “I think it really affected us in game two.”
The 17 seniors on the Chico State baseball team were dreaming of a return trip to Cary. Instead, they graduate with the one trip to the College World Series and a back-to-back regional title games to their credit.
“It’s tough right now, but we’re going to remember the good times,” said senior Pierson Jeremiah after earning his second straight All-West Regional Tournament Team honor. “Hopefully down the road we can look back and see we gave it our all.”
“Those guys set the bar really high,” said junior Nick Baker.
The Wildcats rode their defense to three straight wins to start the regional. But the tables were turned Sunday. The Wildcats hit a number of balls hard, but right at the defense. And Grand Canyon played immaculate defense throughout the day to key the win.
“We hit an awful lot of balls hard,” said Taylor. “But they played the game better than we did today.”
Chico State’s best chance to wrap up the championship came in Sunday’s opener. The Wildcats showed tremendous resolve, coming from behind to tie the game on three separate occasions. They tied the game 5-5 in the seventh when Eric Angerer and Ruben Padilla were hit by pitches with the bases loaded.
Blake Gibbs’ RBI-single in the eighth gave Chico State its first lead of the game.
But that lead was short-lived. Grand Canyon got a two-run single and two-run triple in the bottom-half of the inning and held on to win in the ninth.
That turned out to be the Wildcats’ last lead of the season.
Chico State starter Nick Baker turned in a gutsy six-plus inning performance on two day’s rest. But he was outdueled by his counterparts from Grand Canyon – Andrew Naderer and Jorge Perez– who both started games earlier in the regional and combined to allow two unearned runs in seven innings.
“Nick was great,” said Taylor. “He gave us all we could ask for in that situation.”
Chico State showed late life with a run in the eighth but another in the ninth, but never seriously threatened.
Taylor embraced Jeremiah in the hallway following the press conference and thanked him for what he’s meant for the program.
It was a beautiful moment in an otherwise bummer of a day.