CHICO – With one week left of the regular season and 11 days until the start of the California Collegiate Athletic Association playoffs, the Chico State baseball and softball teams are doing their best to fine-tune their games for the final stretch.
Both teams have clinched playoffs spots already and both were in second place in the CCAA entering Saturday’s games, and the two squads from Chico State had similar tasks in place – hold onto that second-place spot to enable a first-day bye in the playoffs .
Chico State’s baseball team faced off against the No. 1 seed in the CCAA, Cal State Monterey Bay, on Saturday. After dropping the series opener 8-7 Friday night, Chico State needed two wins Saturday and a win Sunday over the Otters to keep their chances alive at taking over the No. 1 seed from Monterey. The Wildcats would need a four-game series sweep at Cal State East Bay next weekend to close out the regular season to take over the top spot in the conference.
Chico State softball had a similar goal in mind, but with Cal State San Marcos having already locked up the No. 1 spot in the CCAA the Wildcats were looking to hold onto the No. 2 spots. Chico State faced off against the No. 3 seed Sonoma State on Saturday, with the Seawolves two games behind Chico after a split in the first two games of the four-game series Friday. Saturday, Chico State needed to win one of the two games to lock down the No. 2 seed over the Seawolves.
The Chico State softball team secured that No. 2 seed in dramatic fashion in game one Saturday with a 2-1 win over Sonoma State, leaning on its seniors in their final home games in Chico. The Wildcats lost game two 4-3. They trailed 4-1 entering the bottom of the seventh, scored two runs but fell just short.
In game one, Chico pitcher Brooke Larsen pitched six scoreless innings for Chico and allowed three hits, two walks and struck out eight before appearing to injure her rib cage between the sixth and seventh inning.
With Chico State leading 1-0, Larsen attempted to go out for the seventh inning and pull her way through her final home start. Chico State’s bench got loud in support of Larsen, but Sonoma State first baseman Skylar Linnane hit a sharp line drive over the center field fence to tie the game at 1. Mari Takeda Bajan relieved Larsen and got two ground outs and a strikeout to get out of the inning and give Chico State a chance to win the game in the bottom of the seventh.
Rachael Bless started the inning with a line out to shortstop, before Grace Stover got her third hit with her second double of the day, this time down the left field line. Stover moved to third on a sacrifice fly by Hailey Seva, setting up senior Reilani Peleti with two outs. On senior day, Peleti took advantage of her moment and hit a sharp line drive to the right center field gap to score Stover and walk it off for Chico State, securing the No. 2 spot in the CCAA playoffs for Chico State.
After the team stormed Peleti at first base and Peleti threw her helmet in excitement, Larsen went to Takeda Bajan and gave her a big hug in relief. Larsen wanted to finish off the start but it was clear after one batter she could not finish the game.
“She wanted it, she really did. She’s a gamer, ”said Chico State coach Angel Shamblin of Larsen. “Brooke’s a tough kid and she’ll be fine. We’re going to figure it out. She’s a great pitcher and she’s a great athlete and she gives a lot to her team, so just happy that we could get that win for her for sure. ”
Peleti said she really wanted to get the job done for Larsen after seeing her teammate throw a great game and come out due to injury.
“I knew I had to do it for her because she worked her (butt) off,” Peleti said. “Just feel bad. She works her butt off, so that’s all you can do is cheer her on. We work as hard as we can for her – every single person on the field. It’s a bummer but she’ll be back, she’ll be fine. “
Despite leaving the game due to injury, Larsen was excited for Peleti to have her moment on senior day and was confident the game was in Chico’s hand with the two-time All-CCAA player and No. 2 RBI leader on Chico State’s team at the plate. Shamblin was confident with Peleti at the plate and was looking forward to Peleti get the job done, “and having some fun doing it.”
“She certainly did that, so happy for her,” Shamblin said.
“Just knowing that Rae was coming to bat I had all the confidence in the world in her because she’s an amazing player and I think it makes it even more special that she got to experience that on her senior day,” Larsen said.
In game two Sonoma scored three runs in the top of the fourth inning, Chico scored once in the fifth inning and Sonoma countered with one run in the sixth inning. In the bottom of the seventh inning freshman Kyra Gooler singled home two runs to trim the Sonoma State lead to 4-3 and bring the go-ahead run to the plate, but Stover flied out to the right field to end the game.
The Chico State baseball team was not as successful as its counterparts of the softball field. The Wildcats lost 8-6 in game one and 4-1 in game two.
Chico led 4-2 after six innings in game one, but the Otters battled back with four runs in the seventh inning and two runs in the ninth to secure the victory. Chico State out-hit Monterey Bay 14-9 in game one, but four errors in the opener proved costly for Chico.
In game two Chico State’s bats struggle to come alive against Monterey Bay pitcher Joseph Standley, as the Wildcats managed just two hits and lost 4-1 in seven innings.
Willie Lajoie had gone a combined 4-for-7 with a walk between the two games, as he continues his chase towards the Chico State career record for batting average record. The current record is .397 held by Steve Gotowala, and the senior Lajoie now has a .408 batting average on the season and is above the .400 mark for his career at Chico State.
The Chico State softball team (36-13, 26-10 CCAA) now prepares for the CCAA tournament beginning Thursday at the home of Cal State Monterey Bay in Seaside, where it will enter the tournament as the No. 2 seed. Games can be seen live on the CCAA Network.
The Chico State baseball team (29-13, 22-11 CCAA) will conclude a four-game series against Cal State Monterey Bay at noon Sunday at Nettleton Stadium in Chico before traveling to Cal State East Bay for a four-game series to conclude the regular season Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The Wildcats will return home for the CCAA playoffs beginning May 11-14 in Chico.