Dream of being two-way player leads West Linn product to leave Sacramento State

by: GREG ARTMAN / FILE - Wilsonville alumnus Clayton Gelfand transferred from Sacramento State to Chico State before his freshman season to pursue his dream of being a two-way player in the collegiate ranks.It wasn’t that Clayton Gelfand didn’t like the Sacramento State baseball team. He did.

But he had worked hard in high school to complement his pitching abilities with fielding and hitting skills, and he didn’t want to give up his dream of being a two-way player in the collegiate ranks.

That goal led the West Linn product and Wilsonville High School alumnus to transfer to Chico State, whose spring season begins Feb. 1 with a doubleheader against Fresno Pacific.

“It was a tough decision, but ultimately one that is best for my future,” he said. “The only way to improve is to play — for me to get to my highest potential as a player — and Chico State gives me an opportunity to do that.”

Gelfand, a right-handed pitcher who also expects to contribute as an infielder, is now part of a Chico State program that has been remarkably successful under eighth-year coach Dave Taylor.

The Wildcats, who compete in Division II as a member of the California College Athletic Association, have made five NCAA tournament appearances and one trip to the College World Series in the last seven years. They compiled an overall record of 266-130 during that span and entered this season ranked No. 12 in the nation.

“The main thing that really made me excited about Chico State is they are a winning program,” Gelfand said. “They have great players and great coaches. Every baseball player loves to win and, ultimately, reach the World Series. Chico State gives me the chance to do that.”

Gelfand was not recruited by the Wildcats during high school. He entered his senior year with a commitment to Saint Mary’s College, but he decided to sign with Sacramento State after visiting the campus.

Gelfand thought he would be able to field and hit as well as pitch for Sacramento State. He approached Hornets coach Reggie Christiansen when it started looking like the Division I program envisioned him only on the mound.

“We discussed options and ultimately came to the conclusion Chico State would be a choice for me if they have the need,” the 5-foot-10 freshman said. “Coach Christiansen was extremely helpful and emailed the teams I was interested in and put in a good word. Chico State responded with a need and I visited.

“Sac State was great during my time there. There isn’t a bad thing I could say about that program.”

Gelfand said one of the hardest parts of making the 95-mile move north to Chico was breaking the news to high school teammate Gunner Pollman, who was also his roommate in Sacramento.

Pollman, a 6-foot-2 catcher, and the Hornets are scheduled to begin their spring season with a four-game series against Utah that starts Feb. 14.

“Gunner was my closest friend there, and that was one of the tougher things I’ve had to tell him,” Gelfand said. “You see someone so much to never seeing him. It was a tough thing to tell him, but ultimately he knew that it was what was best for me and my future and supported my choice. I wish him the best of luck at Sacramento State. He will do big things there, without a doubt in my mind.”

Gelfand arrived at Chico State with experience in the transferring department. He left West Linn for Wilsonville halfway through high school, becoming one of the best all-around players in the Northwest Oregon Conference.

As a junior, he earned second-team all-state honors after being named co-pitcher of the year in the NWOC. He went 6-2 on the mound with a 1.75 earned-run average, logging a school-record 97 strikeouts in just nine games while holding opposing hitters to a .176 batting average.

Gelfand was also a first-team all-league infielder that season, batting .333 and racking up 19 runs, 13 RBI, four triples and 16 stolen bases.

In his senior campaign, Gelfand threw a school-record 17 strikeouts during a one-hit complete-game shutout of Milwaukie and finished with 71 strikeouts despite missing a significant portion of the season with an arm injury.

He also set a new school record in opposing batting average (.152) and helped the Wildcats reach the state semifinals for the second time in three years.

Gelfand then spent part of his summer in Israel with Maccabi USA’s baseball team before heading to Sacramento, where he spent his first semester of college.

“Transferring in the spring was hard to do, but I have started to get to know this group of guys and I can’t wait to play alongside them,” he said. “It’s an honor to get the chance to compete with them every day. ... I am looking forward to the atmosphere and just going out every day and doing whatever I have to do to help this team win.”

Gelfand wished the Wilsonville baseball team good luck on its upcoming season and included a special request.

“Beat Sherwood for me,” he said.

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