ATWATER — Clay Cozzitorto just had one more inning left to pitch. He had shut out his opponents all afternoon, and he was mentally prepared to face them again. But there was something he wasn’t ready for.
Thursday was one of the first hot days of spring. And the Pitman High senior pitcher found it hard to endure, as he gave up five runs before his coach, Mike Tate, pulled him off the mound. But that inning did not tarnish Cozzitorto’s overall day, which consisted of seven strikeouts and 6 1/3 solid innings to lead the Pride to a 10-5 win over the Falcons at Atwater Memorial Ballpark.
“The heat was crazy,” he said. “The last inning, I was started to get a little tired.”
Maybe that heat was good preparation for a different kind of heat for the coming weeks, when the Pride (4-2) will face the top two teams in the Central California Conference.
First, it’s the other 4-2 team in Merced High, with the first game on Tuesday at 4 p.m. at Pitman High. The Pride then will play in Merced on Thursday. After the series, Pitman will go up against crosstown rival and defending league champion Turlock High during the following week.
The Pride know the next two weeks will be challenging.
They say they’re ready.
“Look,” said Tate, the Pitman coach, “if we play the way we played the last week against Atwater, we’re gonna be fine.”
This past week, the Pride beat the Falcons twice, including an 8-0 shutout after Brandon Lewis threw a complete game with 11 strikeouts at home. Cozzitorto also had a similar performance for much of Thursday afternoon, as he got out of a couple bad situations early on.
His teams provided the hits. Alex Ibarra went 3-for-3 with one double, two RBIs, two runs scored and a home run. It was the kind of performance that made a teammate playfully announce after the game this: “March 31, 2011 is Alex Ibarra Day.” There were also five team doubles, with catcher A.J. Derr going 2-for-3 with one RBI and two runs scored and the trio of Chris Mattos, Adam Nascimento and Mike Lopes finishing the day with two hits apiece.
With that kind of production, they weren’t concerned about Atwater’s seventh-inning rally — thanks in part to Pitman junior Damian Sousa-Johnson coming in for a quick relief outing.
“We knew we had to close it out,” Derr said. “That team, they’ll battle back. Especially from a score like that, they’ll battle back. We just had to stay focused and do our thing and close it out. And that’s all we had to do.”
Before this week’s series, the Pride lost two tough matches to Buhach Colony High.
“We had such a down week the week before,” said Tate, whose Pride are aiming for one of the three playoff spots in the CCC. “We just didn’t play good, fundamental baseball. It’s good to know that we can come back and play right. We’ve discussed that with the team. They know this is the way we have to play the rest of the year if we want to be in the thick of the hunt.”
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