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     The sample size is small but the early returns point to an exciting and fruitful 2016 Chico State Wildcat baseball season. Behind two walk-off wins and improbable comeback from six runs down the Wildcats served notice that the 2015 season appears to be an aberration, a mere blip on the screen in their storied and historic run.

     After Friday's 1-0 walk-off win over a very good Menlo College squad the Wildcats were pushed to the limit on Saturday in the first game of a double-header. Menlo jumped on the Cats early and often in the first game scoring two runs in the first and 5 more in the second. Chico found themselves down 7-1 in the 2nd. By the fifth it was 9-3, and the deficit seemed insurmountable in the 7th after Cal Berkeley transfer Lucas Erceg slugged a home run to right giving Menlo a 10-4 lead in the 7th.

     With hope waning Chico State summed up some old Nettleton Stadium magic. The Cats would score two in the 7th and then four runs with two outs in the 8th highlighted by a Josh Falco bases clearing double to tie the game at 10. The game almost slipped away in the top of the 9th after a one out error allowed the Oaks to grab an 11-10 lead. Chico had the tying run on third with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the 9th, only to have Erceg air-mail a 1-2 pitch to the back-stop allowing the tying run to score.

    In the bottom of the 10th, after a single and two walks, the Wildcats Dillon Kelley would hit a ground ball in the hole, Menlo got the force at second but the return throw to first was late setting off a wild celebration and improbable 12-11 win.

 
 

     First, the Cats had virtually an entire roster that under-achieved from their 2014 West Region Championship. Second, the club lacked the necessary depth to withstand pro-longed slumps from key players.  And lastly, the Wildcats needed to canvass their squad with players that mimicked the teams of Wildcats' past. Chico State baseball isn't about playing perfect baseball. Wildcat baseball is about playing the game with a laser like focus and belief that you will somehow find a way if you "GRIND" it out. Grinders.....Chico State had lost that identifier in the 2015 season. On the recruiting trail, the Cats needed to find a bunch of players that would throw caution to the wind and play the game with a joy, fervor, passion and belief that made us all believers again

     As I said, it's the smallest of sample sizes. It's a long season, there will be highs and invariably there will be lows, but when a group of players are all pulling in the same direction and play with passion and selflessness good things happen. This weekend showed the Wildcat faithful that is all is well in Wildcat Land. They showed us........

That it's OK to believe again.

*PHOTO AND VIDEO COURTESY OF CHICO STATE ATHLETICS AT CHICOWILDCATS.COM

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     It is being robustly reported that my beloved Los Angeles Dodgers have signed free-agent second baseman Howie Kendrick to a two-year 20 million dollar deal. I am thrilled. I have always loved Howie and what he brings to the table. He is the consummate professional hitter. I will say this, his professionalism better border on extra-ordinary if this team is going to make noise in the NL WEST.

I have been purposely silent during these winter months. One could say I have been hibernating, but that would not be true. Because whatever sleeping I have been doing pales in comparison to the Dodgers brain trust and their malfeasance.

 

     Let me be PERFECTLY CLEAR. I fully support the Dodgers NOT giving Zack Greinke 6 years and 206 million dollars. I fully support the Dodgers not signing Jeff Samardjiza for 90 million dollars and Johnny Cueto for the 100 plus million he signed for with the Hated Ones. Let the Giants rebuild their rotation with Johnny"I had a 9 ERA in September and couldn't pitch on the road in the post-season" Cueto. And with Jeff "I gave up the most hits, the most runs and the most home runs of any pitcher in baseball" Samardjiza. Best of luck Hated Ones. I applaud Friedman, Zaidi, Washington, Lincoln, Kennedy, Rockefeller and whomever else resides in the Dodgers front office. Great job.

 

     Secondly, I love stock-piling young talent and the Dodgers have gone from a bottom-five minor league system under McCourt to having gold-plated toilet seats up and down their minor league system. The Dodgers have stock-piled power arms galore. They didn't need to spend big money on the Greinke's of the world because Jose DeLeon and Julio Urias should be tipping their hats to an appreciative Dodger Stadium crowd by mid-July. Kudos to the brain-trust for the accumulation of talent.

 

    Now, the reason for my angst.

 

     I will not deny that a lot of my frustration and edginess stems from the bitterness of watching the Giants win three titles in five years. I live in Northern California and have to hear from these people all the time. Their haranguing is nauseating. I deserve it. As I've said, my mouth after the 2002 World Series wrote checks that are now being cashed. Ok, got that out-of-the-way.

 

     I look at the Dodgers and I see an imperfect assemblage of what a baseball team should look like. Freidman and company  can assemble all the talent they want but so far they are content with a team that doesn't generate runs unless the ball sails into the seats, and either can't or doesn't want to move runners with productive outs or selflessness at the plate. This "philosophical" abyss is what cost the Dodgers Game 5 of the NLDS. People can point to Corey Seager not covering third base, but the true crime of that loss was the Dodgers seeing 57 pitches with runners in scoring position and not producing one run. This team is devoid of situational awareness. Now, a ton of the blame deservedly falls at the feet of former manager Don Mattingly and released hitting instructor Mark McGwire. The Dodgers were horrific at situational hitting during the regular season, there was not reason to believe that would change when the pressure is ratcheted  up.  I loved what I heard from Dave Roberts after he got the job. He is a believer in stealing bags, hitting and running and sees value in "small ball." As Denzel would say, "My Man."

 

     The signing of Kendrick gives the Dodgers a great bench. What they don't have is a lead-off hitter, an influx of contact hitters and right-handed power. It's a line-up that strikes out too much and doesn't have much speed. So, while Roberts may philosophically be my kindred spirit, he may not have a ton to work with as the Dodgers try to shape themselves into a team that can actually win something in October.

 

     The starting rotation does not bother me as much as it bothers some. I like Scott Kazmir. I like the Kenta Maeda signing. And, if Hyun-Jin Ryu is healthy by June I really like the rotation, especially with the kids waiting in the wings. What is unforgivable is the Dodgers going into the 2016 season with virtually the same bullpen as last year. Yes, I know they had a deal for Aroldis Chapman that fell through when the world learned he likes to fire 8 gunshots into the wall of his garage while his girl-friend cowers in the bushes. Again, I applaud the Dodgers from walking away from Chapman. From a baseball perspective it hurts, from a human perspective....screw that guy.

I'm sorry I have no faith in Pedro Baez. If I see this one pitch wonder in another leveraged situation again.......Chris Hatcher needs to show me more than six weeks of effectiveness. And, the Dodgers continue to tout Joel Peralta who seems to lose velo on his fastball by the pitch. Have the Dodgers paid attention to the last five World Series champions ? They have all had stellar bullpens with power arms or nasty slider strike throwers. Now is the time in the story when I lament the Dodgers not backing up the Brinks truck for Andrew Miller........but I digress.

 

     The baseball philosophy must change. The approach must change. The bullpen needs to be reborn. Until this is all put in motion, I will applaud the Kendrick signing, only to stop realizing that Baez and Hatcher have only one serviceable pitch and they will be asked to get outs in the 7th and 8th innings.

 

Someone get me some Maalox.....

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By Mike Baca

Photo courtesy of Chico State Athletics

 

     The challenge was clear for the Chico State Wildcats men's basketball team on Thursday night. Slow down that Humboldt State offense or pay the price. With a stingy defensive performance and domination on the boards, the Wildcats knocked off their rivals to the north 86-68 winning the first of at least two installments between the long-time antagonists.

 

     From the outset the Wildcats made it clear that closing out on the Jacks potent three-point shooters and face-guarding would be the order of the day. Aside from a 6-to-7 minute stretch in the first half, the Cats executed Greg Clink's defensive game plan perfectly. They challenged Lumberjack shooters, forcing them to beat the Cats off the dribble. Chico's confidence in their back-side rotations was paramount in this strategy. They knew they would pay a price for these hard close-outs, but the result would be a contested two point shot rather than a wide open 22 footer, which Humboldt has been hitting with regularity.

The rebounding advantage for Chico State was one of the biggest surprises of the night. Chico decimated the Jacks on the boards, out-rebounding the hosts 45-21, grabbing 18 offensive rebounds which led to 25 2nd chance points.

 

    Chico is now 8-1 on the road this year.

 

     Coming into the game Chico knew Rakim Brown, Malik Morgan and Thomas Witzel were major impediments. The Cats held Brown to 12 points, 8 below his season average. Morgan was forced into an uncharacteristic 7 turnovers and Witzel, a 43 percent three-point shooter, was only 1-for-6 from deep and scored only 11 points to go with 4 boards.

 

     Chico's offense clicked at a rhythm and pace that gave them every opportunity to get good shots. An emphasis for the Wildcats over the last few weeks was to not just take the first good shot they saw. Instead show the patience to get a great shot. Since a sub-par performance against Sonoma on Dec 19th the Wildcats had been grading their shots. They are now in constant search for Grad A shots. They are not going to settle for Grade C's or even B's. Head Coach Greg Clink is insisting on Grade A shots and Chico was nearly flawless in that department on Thursday night.

 

     Despite 18 turnovers, Chico State displayed a disciplined approach that met Clink's criteria. Robert Duncan scored 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting. Tanner Giddings dazzled again with 17 points and 10 rebounds and Isaiah Ellis scored 14 points and grabbed 6 boards. Drew Kitchens chipped in with 11.

 

     It was as complete a performance by the Wildcats that we have seen all year in one of the biggest games against a long-time rival. This certainly is not the time for Chico toot their own horn. Awaiting the Cats on Saturday is perennial power and co-tenant of first place in the CCAA, the Cal Poly Pomona Broncos. Another in a series of big games in this 2015-2016 campaign.

 

     Defense again will rule the day as the Broncos are the best team in the CCAA giving up only 60 points a game. Offensively things will not come as easily for Chico on Saturday night, but with one road scalp already in their pelts, they look to sweep the road-trip and get the 2016 calendar year started right.

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