Nine years had passed since Cal State Stanislaus swung a bat in the postseason.
The Warriors – the program built by the iconic coach Jim Bowen – were due, overdue, to return to baseball prominence.
Fourteen seniors took it upon themselves to reverse Stanislaus’ course. And they did.
The Warriors (34-18) made their long awaited California Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament appearance this week at Banner Island Ballpark, the home of the Stockton Ports. They advanced by placing second in the CCAA’s North Division, their best finish in Stanislaus’ CCAA era.
“Every weekend we’ve gotten better,” said Kyle Nixon, a second-team all-conference choice after his transfer from USF. “A lot of teams regress. Not with us. We continued to get better, and tougher.”
Unfortunately for the No. 4 seeded Warriors, their stay in Stockton was short. They went 0-2, beaten Wednesday night by UC San Diego 6-1 and by top-seeded Chico State 5-3. Stanislaus managed only eight hits over the two games and dropped two straight for the first time in over a month.
Regardless, Stanislaus – ranked No. 5 in the region entering the week – still could be one of the six teams selected for the NCAA West Regionals. The bracket will be announced Sunday night.
Veteran coach Kenny Leonesio redirected the program after Stanislaus won only 12 CCAA games in 2013 and 2014. He and the staff targeted more four-year players, and the results were seen this year.
“We decided to bring in younger guys and find some arms,” Leonesio said. “The experience these guys got last year on learning how to win really carried over to this year.”
2008 Stanislaus St.’s last post-season appearance before this week
The improvement was first noticed last year when the Warriors went 25-23. This year, they opened league play by dropping four games to Chico State, the eventual North Division champ. In early April, they nearly dropped three straight at cellar-dwelling Cal State San Marcos. But a rally from a 7-5 deficit to a 10-7 win became a turning point.
From there, Stanislaus won nine straight and 14 of its last 16 to advance.
“This team knows what the league is about and what it takes to win. They don’t really panic,” Leonesio said. “We had all our pitching back this year and added a few pieces. That put us over the top.”
It started with pitching for Stanislaus. Jordan Kron, a former East Union High star, bounced back from UC Riverside and went 16-8 over two seasons en route to an All-CCAA selection. Nick Voumard, a Turlock High grad and another all-league pick, started for most of his career, then led NCAA Division II this season with 15 saves.
The local production continued with Oakdale’s Nick Ippolito, a four-year starter at shortstop who witnessed the program’s growth after five wins as a freshman.
There also was some harmonic convergence. Consider that two mainstays – third baseman Gino Franceschetti and outfielder Kert Woods (Atwater) celebrated Senior Day last year.
Woods, a three-year starter at Santa Clara, used his final season of eligibility at Stanislaus as a graduate student. Franceschetti, the former three-sport star at Escalon (he also played for Modesto Junior College), received a medical redshirt year a few weeks after the end of last season.
“Gino didn’t start at all for us until late last year in a Tuesday game against Lewis & Clark. He was good and gave us a spark,” Leonesio said. “He hasn’t been out of our lineup since.”
Every weekend we’ve gotten better.
The Warriors scrapped on offense with talent such as senior outfielder Charlie Gaff (St. Mary’s High), who was tied for the lead in D-II with 19 sacrifice bunts.
They managed only four hits, however, off UC San Diego’s Troy Cruz on Wednesday night. Kron, who gave up only three homers all season, allowed three solo shots against the Tritons. An early unearned run also hurt.
Stanislaus jumped in front 3-0 over Chico in the first inning, thanks to run-scoring doubles by Franceschetti and Aldo Koutsoyanopulos. But that was the end of the Warriors’ attack.