The Central Washington baseball team has games on the schedule for the end of this month, and are looking to pick things up where they left off.
The Wildcats were 6-12 in their grueling 2020 preseason full of long road trips. They were in Billings, Montana when they found out that their season was canceled, and loaded back onto the bus for the long ride back to Ellensberg without playing an inning against Montana State Billings.
Heading into this season, they have six "covid seniors" returning. While last season wasn't starting on a winning note, that's what preseason is there for. They missed the payoffs in 2019 by one spot, so now in 2021, junior LHP and Pasco native Brayde Hirai says that they are looking to get back on track with a team full of veterans.
"It was kind of tough," said Hirai who transferred from Walla Walla Community College last season, "because our last series against Western Oregon, it felt like a turning point heading in the right direction and going ahead. Obviously, things got cut short, everything went up in the air, and we had to go home -- It was all pretty crazy, but getting those guys to return, a lot of those seniors to return was really good. I think everyone is more determined and ready to get after it."
The Wildcats are still practicing in pods, but they are going outside when the weather allows. Sophomore outfielder Tyler McClain says the restrictions do make it tough when it comes to team chemistry, but their biggest focus is prepping for the full season ahead.
We're focusing a lot on the mental game," said McClain. "Just trying to slow the game down itself so when we get into that moment in the game, we're prepared and calm and relaxed and right now a big thing is timing with pitchers too. We're just just trying to get back into the swing of things and be ready for that live pitching."
It's not just pods that make this season look different. The season was cut from 50 to 40 games. In addition, there's not much in the way of a preseason due to travel restrictions. The team relies of those to get game ready.
"In a normal year, we would have already been to California," said head coach Desi Story.
In his 30 years and over 1300 games as the Wildcats head coach, Desi Story says that they're trying to get live looks with what they've got to work with.
"My theory is baseball is probably the sport that is most dependent being at game speed as quick as you can get there," said Story, "so the non-conference schedule is typically fairly important.To go into this year not doing it, we're going to scrimmage a little more. We've done a pretty good job in terms of having our pitchers throw live at the batters. It's still not true game situation, but it's as close as we are going to get."
The Wildcats have their first February 26th and start league play mid-March.