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By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian
BY JEFF EVANS Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
A devastating hamstring injury could have easily derailed Kyle Nixon's freshman season at Bakersfield College.
But Nixon managed to recover just as the Renegades baseball season began Feb. 1, and he's made the most of it.
BC (24-12) at Saddleback (25-11)
What: Southern California JC baseball playoffs
Where: Doug Fritz Field, Saddleback College in Mission Viejo
Format: Best 2-of-3
Game times: 2 p.m. today, 11 a.m. Saturday; third game follows if necessary
Seeds: Saddleback No. 3, BC No. 14
Previous meeting: Saddleback won 1-0 on March 28 at BC
Follow on twitter: @baksports
Notes: Saddleback's team ERA of 2.45 is the fourth-lowest in the state. Sophomore left-hander Evan Manarino leads the way at 9-1 with a 1.46 ERA. He beat BC in the 1-0 game and allowed only two baserunners, a fifth-inning single by Justin Martinez and Luc Pomales being hit by a pitch with two outs in the ninth. No. 2 starter Tyler Brashears, a freshman right-hander, is 7-2 with a 1.67 ERA. Freshman right fielder Brandon Cody tripled and scored the only run in the BC game. He tied for the state lead with eight homers. ... BC is batting .307 as a team. Freshman catcher Justin Miller finished with seven homers and 34 RBIs to lead the Renegades in both categories. .... Saddleback opened the season 11-1 but hasn't won more than three straight games since. ... BC opened the season 15-2 and won six straight from April 2-13 but hasn't won since. The Gades enter today on a four-game losing streak.
Nixon, who hit over .400 as a junior and senior at Frontier High, finished his freshman regular season at BC as the team leader in batting (.371) and hits (56).
The Renegades (24-12) travel to Saddleback College in Mission Viejo (25-11) today and Saturday for a best 2-of-3 series in the first round of the Southern California playoffs. Today's game is at 2 p.m.
"I love playing in big games," said Nixon, a business administration major. "It's exciting.
"This is my first time in the college playoffs and I'm really looking forward to it."
Nixon tore his left hamstring in June while playing in a tournament in Santa Barbara.
"I hit a ball to the fence and I had rounded third trying for an inside-the-park home run," Nixon said. "I blew it out."
He said he knew immediately it was a serious injury.
"I couldn't even walk. I just fell to the ground," he said.
He was unable to participate in any baseball activities for more than five months.
Several times he said he tried to run, but when he picked up the intensity, he'd tweak it.
"I did that five times," he said. "Finally I went to my doctor and said, 'Is there any other way to do this?'"
Nixon was referred to Dr. Luga Podesta in Thousand Oaks, who had developed an injury treatment called Platelet Rich Plasma.
"It's the same procedure Matt Kemp had done," Nixon said of the Los Angeles Dodgers' star outfielder who battled a hamstring injury for much of the 2012 season.
“What they do is take your blood out, spin it, get the platelets out and inject it to where your tear is.”
Two weeks after the procedure, Nixon said, “My hamstring was completely healed. No scar tissue or anything. The bad thing is the scar tissue. That’s what keeps causing re-injury because it’s not flexible.”
Within four weeks of the procedure, Nixon said he was running at full speed. “And the week after that, I was playing in our season.”
He’s played in all 36 Renegades games, one of only four players who hasn’t missed a game this season.
BC coach Tim Painton acknowledged his frustration that Nixon missed all of the fall and most of January’s practices.
“It just goes to show what kind of athlete he is,” Painton said, referring to Nixon’s ability to be healthy by the start of the season. “We lost an outfielder literally the opening week to an injury and we lost another player over the break to grades.
“It necessitated for us to put him into the lineup right away and offensively he did a great job responding.”
Nixon said his legs are not as strong as they were prior to the hamstring injury. Because of that, Nixon said improving his strength is his top priority in the upcoming off-season.
“For me, this summer is probably the biggest summer of my life,” Nixon said. “I didn’t have any time to rehab my leg or get any strength in it so that’s what I’ll be working on all summer.
“Hopefully I’ll put on weight and get bigger, faster, stronger. But the biggest thing for me is to get some strength in these legs. I had no strength in these legs this year. I’m just thankful I made it through the season.”
Early in his senior year at Frontier, Nixon looked like he was headed to Cal State Bakersfield on a baseball scholarship. He signed a letter of intent with the Roadrunners in November, 2011, during the NCAA early signing period.
But as time passed he reconsidered. Nixon decided on BC and joined the Renegades for their summer practices after graduating from Frontier.
“The main reason I came here is I didn’t think I was ready to play D-1 ball yet,” Nixon said.
Nixon acknowledged his pro baseball aspirations came into play. At four-year college programs, baseball players aren’t eligible for the amateur baseball draft until they turn 21 or they’ve completed their junior years. Nixon, 19, would be eligible for the draft at the end of both his BC seasons if he opted to play at the community college level.
“Coming here I was hoping to be drafted, but the injury really set that back and there’s no way I will (be drafted) this year, I don’t think,” Nixon said.
“I’m a big believer that everything will fall into place. I’m not worried about it. Now I’m focused on the playoffs.”
Painton said Nixon has the potential to enhance his skills between now and next season.
“We knew he was a good player coming into our program,” Painton said. “I think a year from now you’re going to see a player who blossoms defensively. He’s got a chance to become a very complete player.”
Painton said Nixon’s strength as a batter is his ability to use the entire field. Nixon hits
“He’ll go from the left-field line to the right-field line,” Painton said. “When you do that, a defense can’t defend you as a hitter. He’s been very, very good using the entire field. And he’s been good against left-handed pitching.
“When you combine those things, you’ll put up good offensive numbers.”