With the end of his college baseball career fast approaching, things finally seemed to be falling into place for Noah Cordova.
Thanks in part to an elbow injury he sustained as a freshman, Cordova had an up-and-down run pitching at Chandler-Gilbert Community College in his home state of Arizona.
In 20 appearances (14 starts) he threw 102.1 innings, accumulating a 5-6 record in two seasons. Though he recorded 91 strikeouts, Cordova also had some control issues, surrendering 52 walks.
In line to earn a spot in the starting rotation, Cordova again struggled to find the strike zone when he arrived at CSUB in 2019. Control was a major issue in his first game as a Roadrunner, where he walked all three batters he faced and threw two wild pitches in a 10-6 loss to Ball State.
Things eventually evened out. Cordova even made three starts during a 17-appearance campaign where he struck out 30 batters in 36 innings and had the third-best ERA (3.75) on the team. But after surrendering 21 walks and finishing with a 2-5 record, he went into the offseason hellbent on making full-scale improvements to his game.
"If I'm not going to be the most talented guy on the field, I want to be the toughest," he said "I want to out-work everyone."
When he returned in the fall, CSUB coach Jeremy Beard said the senior pitcher's improvements were immediately noticeable.
Cordova's change-up, considered his best pitch when he arrived in Bakersfield, was finding the strike zone with more regularity, as was his breaking ball. His fastball was more potent as well, reaching as high as 95 miles per hour after generally peaking in the high 80s in 2019.
“He’s a tremendous worker," Beard said. "He’s a guy who puts a lot of time and effort into the physical part of the game. He’s always tinkering at his game.”
After recording two saves, eight strikeouts and four walks in six relief appearances to open 2020, Cordova was finally ready to make the leap to full-time starter, beginning with a March 10 game against UC Santa Barbara.
Though a rainout prevented that start from taking place, the delay was only expected to last 72 hours, as Cordova was scheduled to get the ball for a March 13 home game against UC Riverside.
Sadly, world events intervened. Not only were Cordova's starting ambitions stalled further, he was in danger of seeing his career come to a premature end.
The day before the Riverside game, the NCAA announced it was indefinitely suspending all athletic activities in wake of the rapidly expanding Coronavirus.
Though initially in shock, Cordova said there remained a businesslike mindset in the Roadrunner clubhouse. After a March 12 meeting with coaches, several hitters went directly to the batting cage while pitchers held a live throwing session.
"We didn’t really know what to say because at the time nothing was officially canceled," he said. "In my mind and in a lot of my teammate’s mind, we still had work to do.”
It would be the last time Roadrunner players took the field together during the 2020 season. The following day, CSUB suspended all team activities. The season was canceled for good on March 18.
But after weeks of bad news, the NCAA provided a needed dose of positivity Monday, when it announced all spring athletes would retain the year of eligibility that otherwise would have been taken by COVID-19. Beard expects all seven seniors from the 2020 team to return next season.
One player certain to be back is Cordova, who plans to either pursue a second bachelor's degree or a master's in a business field. He plans to graduate with a liberal studies degree in May.
Fearful he wouldn't get a chance to compete with his teammates again, Cordova says he's very eager to soak in the clubhouse environment again.
“That’s one thing coming back I think I’m going to appreciate a lot more is being with my team," he said. "That’s one of those things that’s more than a game, just being in that team environment and bonding with teammates.”
Given another chance to prove his worth as a starter, he expects to come back even stronger following another tireless offseason of work.
"You’re working towards something and when your season’s cut short it’s like ‘All right, I’ve got to move on with my life,’" he said. "Now it’s time to go back to work. It feels good. I hope I can come back better than ever.”