Though they were ahead by three runs at one point, the Pitman High baseball players caught themselves in a flashback. They were in this moment before, just two days earlier when they had a two-run lead over their archenemies, Turlock High.
But second baseman A.J. Derr wasn’t going to let this game slip.
With runners on the corners, the junior made a nearly impossible game-saving diving catch to end the top of the sixth inning, eventually preserving a crucial 6-2 win over the Bulldogs on Thursday afternoon in front of a large crowd at the Pitman High baseball field. The Pride also avenged a 5-4 loss to the same team on Tuesday afternoon, when the Bulldogs rallied back for the win.
Before Derr’s catch, the Pride were up 4-1. The Bulldogs had runners Ryan Cumberland and Kevin Kramer on first and third, respectively, with dangerous hitter James Heller, who earlier in the season pounded 11 straight hits, at the plate. Heller floated a shot toward the outfield before Derr stretched out every limb to make the diving catch, with his body eventually crashing to the ground.
He didn’t mind.
“If I hadn’t drove for that, one of those runners would’ve scored and it would’ve been a game-changer,” Derr said. “I went all-out for my team, and I ended up with the ball and everyone was cheering for me.”
The win shows that the Bulldogs are beatable, though Thursday’s loss was only their second of the season. Turlock drops to 16-2 overall but still owns a comfortable first-place standing in the Central California Conference at 8-2.
On the other hand, the Pride (12-6 overall, 6-4 CCC) have now beaten every league team except for Buhach Colony High; this win gives them some self-assurances heading into the final stretch of the season, as the Pride are shooting for one of three playoff spots in the league.
“It’s real big, because you’re going into league with a lot more confidence,” Pitman’s Shea Patterson said.
After Kramer’s RBI single to give the Bulldogs the 1-0 edge, Pitman responded. The Pride scored three runs on three hits at the bottom of the first, with Mike Lopes coming up with a two-RBI double to centerfield. They added another run in the fourth after Damian Sousa-Johnson’s infield single that brought in Steven Kha before the Pride completed their final plate appearance with two more insurance runs.
Zach Olsen, along with Kha and Patterson, also finished with an RBI each.
“They just rolled a few balls through on us,” Turlock coach Mark de la Motte said. “It was kind of one of those games where both teams played well. They just got the hits.”
The Pride’s defense did its job, too. Besides Derr’s diving catch, Clay Cozzitorto’s complete-game outing on the mound wasn’t defined by strikeouts, because he didn’t get any. He made the opposing team ground out through the afternoon, including the game’s final two outs. After Brent Backlund reached home on an error, Cozzitorto induced Ryan Flood to a grounder to third base, where the Pride started a double-play.
It was a fitting end, because this time the Pitman players weren’t going to drop the ball and let the Bulldogs come back.
“I knew I had to throw strikes,” Cozzitorto said. “I had to get ground balls all day. With one out, there’s a lot of pressure. I was able to get that last ground ball, which was good because we got the double-play.”
To contact Chhun Sun, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141 ext. 2041.