JULY 24, 2017 - CHICO, CA: Chico saw a sea of stars Monday night as the Great West League All-Star game showcased the league’s best and brightest at Nettleton Stadium.
In a new format for the league, the second annual All-Star contest saw an intact Heat team face a squad comprised of standout athletes from the five remaining GWL teams. Over two-thousand GWL baseball enthusiasts hailing from across the West Coast gathered at the Nett to partake in the ceremonial game’s many festivities.
Preceded by an All-Star Luncheon that included autograph sessions and guest speakers, the evening entertainment got underway as six GWL sluggers displayed their talents at the plate in the GWL Home Run Derby. Austen Swift (Lincoln), Brock Ephan (Marysville), Alex Isola (Medford), Josh Winkler (Yuba City), Zander Clarke (Portland), and Marcus Wilhite (Chico) were each given four minutes to crank as many home runs over the outfield wall at Nettleton Stadium as possible. Ephan and Swift advanced to the championship round where Lincoln’s Austen Swift launched a last-minute blast to secure his title of reigning GWL Home Run Derby Champion.
The pomp and circumstance continued as the Heat Organization pulled out all the stops to celebrate the best of the GWL and Chico baseball. Prior to the All-Stars taking the field, Great West League owners, including Chico’s Steve Nettleton and Pat Gillick, were recognized on the diamond before former Chico Heat Manager and Houston Astros pitcher Charley Kerfield tossed out the game’s ceremonial first pitch.
Fans paid no mind to the late start time as they bestowed long ovations upon both the GWL All-Star and Chico Heat lineups before Heat starter Lucas Knowles took the bump to face the best of his opponents.
The All-Star club wasted no time in burning up the base-paths as an error by the Heat defense placed the visitors’ first runner aboard. After a wild pitch from Knowles advanced the runner to third, Medford’s Alex Isola delivered a sacrifice fly to give the All-Stars a 1-0 edge.
Medford Skipper Josh Hogan tapped his ace Dylan Pearce to get things underway on the mound for the All-Stars. Pearce, along with Lincoln’s Kenneth Pettibone and Marysville’s Cruz Daddario held the Heat scoreless through three innings.
As the All-Stars touted a 3-0 lead, the Heat jumped on the board in the bottom of the fourth inning. With two outs and two runners on, first baseman Bailey Zimmer struck an RBI single off of Lincoln’s Zach Hoffman to score the home team’s lone run in the lopsided contest.
The Heat would continue to threaten throughout the night, before ultimately falling to the stacked GWL All-Stars 11-1.
Following the game’s final out, Chico General Manager, Hunter Hampton, unveiled GWL-themed hardware to recognize the night’s outstanding performances including commemorative bats for the Home Run Derby winner, the Top Prospect awards, and Most Valuable Player.
On a night the Heat expected to reside in the shadows, the team was overjoyed to learn pitcher Lucas Knowles was crowned the GWL’s Top Pitching Prospect, an honor determined by the various Major League Baseball Talent Scouts in attendance. The University of Washington standout tossed four innings in which he fanned six All-Stars while allowing just three hits to capture the scouts’ eyes and earn the recognition.
“It’s a real honor,” said an all-smiles Knowles after the ceremony. “[The scouts] have been around this game a long time, so to get this award means the world. It’s awesome to put my name on the map with this.”
Joining Knowles was Medford catcher, Alex Isola, of Utah was also granted recognition as the game’s Top Position Prospect by the MLB scouts after an exemplary night behind the dish.
UCLA slugger and Portland Pickle, Zander Clarke, took home perhaps the most coveted award of the GWL’s Midsummer Classic as he was recognized as the night’s Most Valuable Player. Clarke, making his second GWL All-Star Game appearance, went two-for-four at the plate while leading the team with two RBIs.
After noting the profound nature of the celebratory exhibition match and the fun shared between he and fellow All-Stars, Clarke pointed out his gratitude for the MVP honor, “The [MVP] award is always good for a player’s resumé, but it’s an even better feeling.”
Josh Hogan guided the group of GWL stars to the commanding win as the All-Star Manager. Hogan, who is also in the driver’s seat of the Great West League with his first-place Medford Rogues, noted how special it is to spend time with players from across the league while placing fun at the forefront of the night’s endeavors.
“The only coaching I was doing today was making sure guys got an equal number of at bats,” explained Hogan. “Everybody got three at bats and everybody who could throw today threw for us.”
Hogan also recognized the Heat for their impressive display on the field despite the matchup’s final score. “Today is lopsided because all the All-Stars are on one team,” noted Hogan. “Chico doesn’t want to throw their best guys when they have league tomorrow, so you have to tip your hat to them for battling. Both teams had a lot of fun today and, for me, that’s what an all-star game is all about.”
Heat Skipper Fred Ludwig echoed a sentiment similar to that of Hogan, “Tonight was a great experience for everyone involved—our team, the all-star team, the fans, the management—regardless of that outcome, it was a great experience for everyone.”
Ludwig also explained that the night, despite the outcome, offered multiple benefits to the Heat. Amidst the excitement of hosting an All-Star game, Ludwig took a relaxed management style to afford his starters an extra day off while granting others a once-in-a-season opportunity to perform, such as that granted to his pitching staff. “It was their night to shine—the guys on the bump—and it turned out that way with Lucas,” said Ludwig. “The night gave our guys a chance to get some reps, and was almost like a second day off for others. It really was a productive night for us.”
The Great West League will resume league play on Tuesday, July 25 with contests scheduled between the Pickles and Potters; the Gold Sox and Rogues; and the Heat and Bears.
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