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Wildcat catchers display good grip on game

Nicholas Woodard

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Jake Bailey, a senior kinesiology major, opens his glove, waiting to receive a pitch during Saturday's second game of the double header against CSU East Bay. Photo credit: Grant Mahan

Behind the strong pitching staffs of the baseball and softball teams at Chico State is a select group. It’s a group that works hard to frame strikes, dig out sliders and nail base-stealers.

Catchers.

The Wildcat catchers are not only receivers for a pair of league-leading staffs, but they also display the physical and mental skills of being in the squat.

On the softball team, first-year Tori Zimmermann and sophomore Brynn Lesovsky share catching duties. Zimmermann pairs up with pitcher Alex Molina and Lesovsky handles Brooke Langeloh.

Both catchers started from an early age, Lesovsky at 8 and Zimmermann at 10. Both had college aspirations early on. Lesovsky took after her older sister, she said. Zimmermann believed as a teenager that she could be a college catcher.

“When I was 14, I started to understand the game more,” Zimmermann said. “I always wanted to play in college, and when I realized I’m good at catching, I was like, ‘Hey, I can take this the whole way.’”

Both catchers realized the added responsibilities to the position at the college level.

To be a catcher means to sacrifice your body and be constantly sore, Zimmermann said. But it’s worth it to build strong relationships with her pitchers.

Catching is about the mentality and keeping her head in the game’s crucial moments, Lesovsky said.

“When you’re catching, you’re calling the pitches,” Lesovsky said. “When there’s a runner on third, you don’t want to have a passed ball. But you need to take yourself out of the situation and call the pitch you need to call.”

The catching tandem also has the task of cooling down their pitcher during crunch time.

When Lesovsky heads to the mound to give Langeloh a breather, she tries to makes her laugh and smile to take some of the pressure off, Lesovsky said.

On the other side, Zimmermann’s goal with her visit with Molina is to keep her from worrying about anything else and to keep her hitting her spots, Zimmermann said.

“The relationships I make with the pitcher, knowing what they want to throw and what they’re confident in, that’s my favorite part,” Zimmermann said.

Unlike his softball counterparts, senior Peter Miller hasn’t always been a catcher. Until about three years ago, he was a third baseman and pitcher. However, when he played for University of the Pacific, he was converted to catcher because of his body frame and strong arm.

After redshirting for Chico State in 2013, Miller has that arm on display in 2014.

“When you see that guy running, there’s no other feeling,” Miller said. “It’s just intense. You don’t think about it at all. The ball comes out of your hand and a lot of the times you end up getting that guy.”

When he’s not taking down runners, he works on one of the more challenging aspects of catching: blocking. The former infielder switched from picking up grounders with his hands to using his entire body to get down and block balls in the dirt, he said.

Luckily, he has a staff that’s pretty good about location. They may have some filthy pitches, but he’s been a battery mate for many strong outings this year.

“Before he was injured, Ryan O’Shea threw the best curve I’ve ever seen, and that was extremely difficult to catch,” Miller said. “I have a lot of fun with Nick Baker. We have a good connection and we’ve had some good games this year.”

At first, Miller was nervous getting game action. But after 20 starts this year, his nerves have passed and he’s settled in, as have the duo of Lesovsky and Zimmermann.

Between the soreness after games and the extreme focus during the game, the job of catching is a grind.

However, Lesovsky loves the job, she said.

“I’ve been doing it for so long that I love to get on the field and catch,” Lesovsky said. “Even if it’s bullpens, there’s always something to be working on. Catching is one of those things that if you do it over and over and over again, you will get good at it.”

Nick Woodard can be reached at nw[email protected] or @nwoodard25 on Twitter.

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Wildcat catchers display good grip on game