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Sweet journey: Alabama


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Published 2003-02-05T00:00:00Z”/>

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Chris Cullen<br>Staff Writer

Nestled against the Piedmont Uplands at the edge of a Gulf of Mexico coastal plain, lies Paterson Field in Montgomery, Ala., home of the Division II College World Series.

The Chico State baseball team opened their season last weekend and began a quest for a trip to Montgomery and a championship ring.

“I believe by the end of the year we are capable of playing very good baseball,” said Chico head coach Lindsay Meggs. “We should be capable of competing in the postseason. The goal is always to compete in the postseason and to play in the College World Series.”

The baseball team owns a championship reputation, and this year may not be any different. However, this year’s team has some big cleats to fill. Since the Wildcats lost in the National Championship game 5-3 to Columbus State last year, the only way the Wildcats can improve on last year’s success is to win the College World Series.

“The level of toughness has always been a defining characteristic of ours,” Meggs said. “The team that demonstrates the most toughness gets into the postseason time and time again.”

This year the Wildcats return 10 of 21 players and three of nine pitchers. However, that still leaves them with some work to do.

The Wildcats lost starting pitcher Adam Montarbo and closing pitcher Dale Thayer — both picked up by the San Diego Padres. The club also lost All-American pitcher Brian Thomas to graduation.

“We think we have enough depth on the pitching staff to replace who we lost last year,” Meggs said. “We will be solid offensively and the key is good defense.”

The Wildcats have a number of young players this season. They have sophomore shortstop Jeff Walker and sophomore Jon Shepard in the outfield, and freshmen catcher Trevor Weedon and pitcher Matthew Gaylord should both see some action this season.

But Meggs is uneasy this year because a young team is very unusual for Chico.

“On paper we may be as athletic,” Meggs said. “There is a feeling we had last year that we weren’t going to lose a game. To expect our players to live up to that is too hard.”

For leadership the Wildcats will look to their three captains: John Moylan, Ivan Hernandez and Nic Amanno. Moylan is a strong designated hitter, while Hernandez is the No. 1 starting pitcher and Amanno is a returnee in the bullpen.

“Our long-term goal is to get back to Alabama,” said Hernandez. “I think if we play to our ability, we can go all the way.”

The California Collegiate Athletic Association is annually one of the strongest conferences in the nation. This year the Wildcats will watch out for Sonoma State, Cal Poly Pomona, Cal State San Bernardino and Grand Canyon University.

Prior to the season, the team was picked by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association to finish second in Division II, behind only Kennesaw State.

“Our goal is to go back to the College World Series and win,” Moylan said. “We fell one game short last year, so we want to win it this time.”

Last year the baseball team had a 55-10 overall record and was 37-7 in the CCAA. They began the season 20-0 and were the CCAA Regular Season Champions. They were also the Western Region Champions and the first Chico baseball team ever to win 55 games.

Chico State baseball has a history of great play. In 1997 the team won its first College World Series title. And two years later, the Wildcats won the College World Series again. The ‘Cats have attended the big dance four out of the last six years and won four out of the last six conference championships.<em>Chris Cullen can be reached at <a href= “mailto:[email protected]”>[email protected]</a></em>

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        Sweet journey: Alabama