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Chico Heat

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The Chico Heat had an impressive six-year run in the independent Western Baseball League, winning the regular season or postseason title each year.

In their first year, Chico went 21-24 in the first half under manager Bill Plummer and 24-21 in the second half. They then stunned the regular-season champion Sonoma County Crushers in the playoffs, 2 games to 1. In the finals, they defeated the Reno Chukars 3 games to 1. In addition, the club dominated in terms of attendance, drawing a league-best 116,311. Their lone All-Star was OF Corey Paul (.348/?/.549). OF/1B Terrel Hansen (.321/?/.674) was second in the WL in slugging and tied for third with 22 homers, while 1B/DH Ken Shamburg (.315/?/.562) was tied for third with 43 extra-base hits. OF Jeff Rhein (.267/?/.426, 27 SB) tied for the lead with 6 triples. Rafael Navao (11-3, 3.69) was fifth in ERA and tied for second in wins while Joey Dawley (1-4, 14 Sv, 4.35, 51 K in 41 IP) was second in saves. 3B John Coats was the post-season star.

In 1998, the story was reversed. They won the regular season easily with a 63-26 record, only to fall 3 games to 0 to Sonoma County in the playoffs. They drew 132,052 fans, more than 35,000 more than the #2 team. Plummer's squad featured three All-Stars - 2B Al Harley (.312/?/.447), P Scott Navarro (10-4, 3.34, fourth in the league in ERA) and P Jeff Sobkoviak (7-0, 3.24, third in ERA). Meanwhile, Chris Neier (8-2, 2.94) had the lowest ERA in the loop, Jose Salcedo (11-3, 5.03) was second in wins and Dawley (2-4, 26 Sv, 3.35) led in saves. OF Justin Mashore (.290/?/.480) led in steals (45) and was second in runs (88). The offense was balanced, with five players hitting double-digit homers.

The Heat again showed the silliness of playoff systems for the third year running in 1999 as they had the best regular season record after a 11-0 start (63-27) and beat the Reno BlackJacks 3 games to 2 in the semifinals. They lost 3 games to 1 in the tiny playoff sample size against the Tri-City Posse. Plummer's team drew 126,525 in attendance, again leading the WL by over 35,000. All-Stars were aplenty - 3B Bo Durkac (.337/?/.474), SS Tim Cooper (.280/?/.570), DH Hansen (.304/?/.579), P Tom Bergan (9-4, 2.93), P Chris White (10-1, 3.21) and P Josh Montgomery (4-2, 19 Sv, 1.93, 51 H in 42 IP). Plummer won Manager of the Year honors while White split Pitcher of the Year honors. Chico's 4.17 team ERA was more than a run better than #2 Tri-City (5.18). 2B Mike Nadeau (.345/?/.494) was 10th in the league in average but led in runs (90) and was fifth with 26 steals. Cooper was 4th with 79 runs, tied for third with 6 triples and tied for 3rd with 19 HR. Hansen tied for third with 19 homers as well and was 4th in slugging, while Durkac was 5th in RBI (a team-high 77). Bergan and White were 1-2 on the leader list in ER, White led in wins, Montgomery in saves and Bergan in shutouts (2).

In 2000, Chico continued their run of regular season dominance (57-33, the best record), beat the Solano Steelheads 3 games to 2 in the semifinals, then again were upset in the finals, this time by a much closer team, the Zion Pioneerzz (54-34). Charlie Kerfeld now managed the Heat, which lost their last three games 1-0, 14-11 and 11-10. They had three All-Stars this time in 1B Ray L. Brown (.327/?/.470, 82 RBI, picked at DH), 2B Nate Rewers (picked as the utility man; .326/?/.374) and OF Buck McNabb (.300/?/.490, 87 R, 84 RBI, 36 SB, led league in runs). Reece Borges (10-4, 3.32) was third in ERA, one spot ahead of Mike Zipser (9-3, 2 Sv, 3.47). Durkac hit .331/?/.440.

The 2001 Heat had the best first half record in the northern division (31-14) but fell to 25-20 in the second half. They again had the best record in the WL under Kerfeld, who won Manager of the Year honors. Greg Bicknell (11-3, 2 Sv, 2.38) was second in the league in ERA and won Pitcher of the Year honors. Joining him on the All-Star team were fellow hurlers Gabe Sollecito (3-2, 5 Sv, 1.06) and Navarro (10-2, 2.55, third in ERA) and 1B Brown (.385/?/.584, 75 R, 88 RBI), who led the league in average. OF Brad Gennaro (.366/?/.562, 89 RBI) was second in average. They beat Solano 3 games to 1 in the first playoff round. In the finals, they lost games one and five behind Bicknell, the finale a 6-5 affair despite two homers by McNabb.

In their final year, Chico won titles in both halves once more (55-35 overall) under Kerfeld and led in attendance as usual (103,209). Jeff Harris (9-5, 2.85) won Pitcher of the Year honors and was second in the WL in ERA. 4th was Lance Franks (11-4, 2.98) while Navarro (10-5, 3.20) was fifth. All three were All-Stars, as was 1B John Macalutas (.324/?/.482, 31 SB). In the playoffs, they beat Sonoma County 3 games to 1. They then topped the Long Breach Breakers 3 games to 1. In the final game, they were saved by a fine double play by RF Rick Prieto, while Navarro got the win (as he had done in their title game five years prior).

Sources: 1998-2003 Baseball Almanacs, The Western League by W.C. Madden and Patrick Stewart

[edit] Year-by-Year Record

Year League Affiliation Record Finish Manager Playoffs
1997 Western Baseball League none 45-45 2nd South Division Bill Plummer defeated Reno 3-1 in championship
1998 Western Baseball League none 63-26 1st South Division Bill Plummer lost to Sonoma County 0-3 in semifinals
1999 Western Baseball League none 63-27 1st overall Bill Plummer lost to Tri-City 0-3 in championship
2000 Western Baseball League none 57-33 1st North Division Charlie Kerfeld lost to Zion in championship
2001 Western Baseball League none 56-34 1st North Division Charlie Kerfeld lost to Long Beach in championship
2002 Western Baseball League none 55-35 1st North Division Charlie Kerfeld defeated Long Beach in championship
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