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Wildcat baseball catches preseason awards

Nicholas Woodard

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Nick Baker, senior pitcher, prepares to release a throw. Photo courtesy of Chico State Sports Information Department.

Pitching and defense go hand in hand. A pitcher needs his defense to make plays behind him and the defense relies on the pitcher to set the pace of the game.

Luckily, the Chico State baseball team has two of the best players covering these positions.

Senior pitcher Nick Baker and junior shortstop Cody Slader lead in pitching and defense, respectively. The two were given preseason first-team all-west region honors from the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. The all-west region honors named the best players in the region according to a poll prior to the start of the season.

The selections were based on last year’s performances, and both players delivered strong seasons. Baker finished last year with an 8-4 record and a 2.36 ERA. The slick-fielding Slader batted .288 with nine stolen bases and took home a Rawlings west region Gold Glove.

Being named was a confidence booster, but he still has to work hard this year to prove he deserves it, Baker said.

“It could take a negative route if you get cocky,” Baker said. “Any given week any pitcher could be next best thing, especially with baseball. It’s a weird sport.”

But Baker isn’t just any pitcher. He owns a 23-7 record as a Wildcat, ranking third in school history.

Playing behind the Wildcat hurler is a fielder’s dream, Slader said. Baker has a quick, fast-paced style of pitching that infielders and outfielders love.

“It’s the best scenario,” Slader said. “Nick works fast and throws a bunch of strikes. We have to be ready every pitch, because they’ll be swinging.”

However, Baker’s success wouldn’t be as attainable without the help of the defense. Trusting the defense is a huge part of pitching, and the Wildcat defense is definitely a trustworthy bunch, Baker said.

This is where the sure-handed Slader steps in.

The star shortstop makes plays that help in ways that fans may not understand, Baker said. When the shortstop takes away a leadoff single, it not only stops momentum, but it saves pitch count and the pitcher’s arm.

“A guy like Slader can cover so much range,” Baker said. “A lot of the plays he makes are plays regular shortstops aren’t making. He’s able to get balls up the middle and take away hits from guys.”

Slader takes pride in this kind of defensive play. If he can make a play on defense he brings that confidence with him to the batter’s box.

“If I make a couple good plays in the field and I come up next inning, I’m going to get a hit,” Slader said.

The pair will anchor a Chico State team that entered the year as a favorite in the California Collegiate Athletic Association coach’s poll.

That’s nothing new for the ’Cats, who have been the favorite three years in a row. What is new, however, is a roster that features 23 incoming faces.

The veterans on the team will help the new players focus and understand what to expect throughout the season, Baker said. Slader echoed this point and emphasized why they made the team.

“All our vets will have leadership roles, but the guys coming in have proved themselves and will help us win games,” Slader said.

Despite the individual awards under their belts, Baker and Slader’s goal as a team is to get back to the World Series.

“I mean, it’s a great honor, but we still have a full season ahead of us,” Slader said. “Me and Nick aren’t for solo awards. We are here for the team and we just want to win.”

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

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Wildcat baseball catches preseason awards