The Pride of Pitman High came into Wednesday’s game against rival Turlock High with chips on their shoulders. Whether it was during their season preview interviews, during spring break or after Monday’s 11-2 loss to the Bulldogs, one thing seemed to constantly weigh heavy on their minds.
“After last year, we just can’t let that happen again,” said Pitman senior Andrew Balentine, referring to the fact that Turlock defeated them two out of three times.
After the lopsided loss to start the week, Balentine made sure to get his team back on track on his home turf, giving up four runs (two earned) off of five hits across 4 2/3 innings. It wasn’t the most dominant of performances for the Fresno State-bound hurler, but it was all the Pride needed in the five-inning game, as his offense exploded enroute to a 14-4 win.
“We have an offense that come alive at any moment and I have a defense that makes plays for me left and right. I have the best defense in this league,” Balentine said.
One of the faces of the Pride is senior shortstop Christian Jacinto. In Wednesday’s game, he reached base three times with two hits and walk, driving in two runs in the process and scoring three runs of his own.
Just as he spoke about his defense, Balentine tabbed Jacinto as the best shortstop in the Central California Athletic League. Pitman head coach Andy Walker also praised his leadoff man, describing him as a sparkplug for the team. During Friday’s series finale, he lived up to the praise once more.
Friday evening at Mark de la Motte Field at Turlock High School saw a rubber match between Pitman southpaw Drew Walker and Turlock hurler Andrew “Bubba” Lujan. The game breezed by with the two taking the mound as each surrendered just one run through the first six innings of play. In the top of the seventh inning, Walker set the table for his teammates to get a rally going with a leadoff single. Lujan’s day came to an end after the next batter, Brandon Leon, reached base on an error on his bunt attempt. Lujan exited having given up six hits while striking out four over his six plus innings of work.
“Bubba threw really well,” said Turlock head coach Mike Souza. “Bubba did a great job and he’s been doing that all year. He’s been getting groundballs, not a big strikeout guy, but our defense plays well enough. Bubba is just Bubba. You see it when he’s out there. No facial expressions, nothing, He’s the cool cat.”
In relief of Lujan was Bulldog ace Payton Hawkinson. The 6-foot-7 Fullerton-bound lefty did little to intimidate his crosstown rivals, though, as senior Dominic Damante dropped down a bunt that Hawkinson would throw wide right of home plate, allowing pinch runner Alex Trujillo to score and put the Pride ahead 2-1. Jacinto, the next batter, broke things open with a two-run single, pounding his chest and screaming towards his dugout as he rounded first base. The 4-1 score would stand until the last out.
“It’s big emotion coming out in big moments,” Jacinto said. “I just have a passion for this game. I love this game. That’s how I express myself on the field. I love showing emotion. I think it sets me apart and I love it.”
Souza discussed his decision to put Hawkinson in the game despite him being on just three days of rest.
“I just thought, ‘Hey, there are some guys on base and we need some strikeouts, so let’s bring the big guy in,’” explained Souza. “Bubba’s pitch count was getting up there, he was getting a bit tired, so that’s why I went with Hawk, but that’s baseball. That’s why we love and play this game.”
While Lujan was stellar, Walker was just a tad bit better. The lefty came back out for the bottom of the seventh, where he retired the Bulldogs in order to secure the victory. He gave up just two hits and a walk while striking out seven in the complete game performance.
“I just tried to treat it like another game and just another Friday that I’m pitching. Don’t let the moment be too big,” said Walker. “That last inning, I was just running off of adrenaline. I was tired in the sixth inning, but after we scored runs, I just said, “I have to finish this. This is my game to win.’
“Last year, it was kind of the same situation where it was 1-1 in the series, but we have a lot of seniors on this teams,” he continued. “Their pitcher was pitching good, but we did what we do. We can bunt, we can steal, and we just have a lot of seniors that can clutch it up.”
With the series win, the Pride keep a strong grip on first place in CCAL play. Their record improved to 12-6-1 overall and 8-1 in conference competition. Meanwhile, Turlock drops to 12-9-1 overall and 8-4 in league play. The Bulldogs will try to get back on track in a three-game set against Gregori next week while the Pride will look to keep the good times rolling in a three-game series of their own against a 4-7 Enochs squad.
“This game is huge. It gives u confidence and now we have something to fall back, and it also gives us the confidence to keep pushing forward and really put it on Enochs next week,” Jacinto said. “We’re not going to take our foot off the gas pedal.”