One year really made the difference for head coach John Acha and his Pitman High varsity baseball team.
From an 8-7 Central California Conference no-playoff team in 2014, to a 2015 league championship after a 13-2 CCC record last year, that included a semifinal run of the southern half in the Division I Sac-Joaquin Section tournament.
All these things, along with the return of two of the area’s best all-around players in Matt Carrigg and Colton Evans, have the Pride without question boasting one of the best teams in the CCC this season and perhaps in all of Stanislaus County.
“We have some key guys back from last year, it definitely helps building off that, they all know what it took and have a taste for it and they want it again, you can sense that,” said Acha.
“Last season’s success we went super hard in everything we did, but the best part was we had fun doing it... we have fun playing this game, it never felt like work,” said Evans. “It felt like we were just playing ball, having a good time.”
While expectations are high for a team coming off a 24-7 season, Evans and Carrigg, who are much more mature and wiser than their years, know that a stable approach must be made that includes humility, patience and also hard work and dedication.
“Yeah, we did have a good year but we would like to do a little better,” said Carrigg. “We lost in semis against St. Mary's like we did my freshman year so it’s rough and we just want to bounce back strong, take CCC and maybe go further in Sections this year and keep working hard.”
“Our approach, no matter how we did last year, has to be different, I mean same approach, but it’s a new day,” said Evans. “We have to work hard, grind at it and we are going to do that because we have a great group this year.”
The Pride will have the luxury of also returning another two of their top hitters in junior second baseman Anthony Encalade, who hit .374 for the year, and first baseman Dylan Roberts who batted .313.
Evans was second on the team in batting just a year ago (.378) while Carrigg (.493) led the team in batting average and pitching, after boasting an ERA of 1.18 and a 4-0 record. Nick Jones also returns as a solid arm for Pitman after finishing last season with a 1.63 ERA and a 6-2 record.
“I would say we have a lot more energy this year... I mean talk about an energetic group that can't wait to work,” said Evans. “Last year we had a lot of seniors, this year we added some youth, athletic talent, and I think it can be fun, it will definitely be a good factor for the team.”
Pitcher Bradley Enos will also look to make a splash on the Pride's rotation, joining a pitching squad that boasted a team ERA of 2.29 in 201.2 innings pitched. The team batting average was .323.
“I feel we have more key starting returners this year,” said Acha. “But there are obviously holes to fill losing guys like Coleton Horner and Zach Wichman, those are hard guys to replace but I think we have guys who will fill in nicely.”
Also expect Todd Jones and Ben Lascano to provide the Pride with some much needed bats and help on defense.
The Pride will now look to make it back-to-back CCC titles for the first time in the program's history.
“CCC is always extremely competitive, there is no easy wins out there in our league, which we wouldn't want it any other way,” said Acha. “Just because we won CCC last year, we have the target on our back this year but we have to defend the title and our mentality and hunger is still the same.”
Pitman's first preseason game will be at Modesto High at 3:30 p.m. Friday.