It was a defensive deadlock for the majority of Tuesday's cross-town showdown between Turlock and Pitman High. After four innings of solid pitching from the Bulldogs' Nick Avila and Pride's Nick Jones, the scoreboard read 0-0 and everyone was left questioning, who would falter first?
The answer to that question came at the very top of the fifth inning when Pitman's Dylan Roberts hit a booming double into left field. On the very same play, Avila sustained an as of yet unknown injury to his leg and was forced to leave the game. It was the turning point of the day and Pitman went on to score seven runs in the last three innings for the shutout win.
“There's been times where we couldn't [score], but that one hit and today they came. We had good approaches at the plate late in the game, not as much early on,” Pitman head coach John Acha said.
“Unfortunately, Nick got hurt and we didn't play very well on defense. That's not a good combination no matter who you're playing,” Turlock head coach Mark de la Motte said.
With Avila sidelined, Brian Mendez assumed pitching duties for Turlock which had only allowed three hits up until the pitching change. Avila gave up no hits in the fifth, but Turlock's defense gave up an unearned run when its second baseman overthrew the first baseman on an attempted double play and allowed Roberts to cross home for Pitman's first run. The Pride followed with the first multi-hit inning of the game from either team in the top of the sixth inning that saw Coleton Horner and Todd Jones hit RBI singles, Horner cross the plate after Donovan Bravo was hit by a pitch with loaded bases and Roberts cross home for the second time after tagging up on a Daren Finney fly out.
“They broke it open, they hit five ground balls in a row into left field,” de la Motte said of Pitman's late-game surge.
Pitman notched its final two runs in the top of the seventh inning with a Zach Winchman 2RBI double into center field.
While Turlock's defense struggled, Pitman's flourished as the sophomore Jones allowed only four hits all game.
“He's got incredible poise. He's got friends in the other dugout and he was probably amped, but he was able to control it and threw a great game,” Acha said of Jones.
Tuesday's win extended the Pride's first place lead over second place Turlock by two games. With four games left in the season — two of which come against Turlock in a Thursday/Friday double header — the Pride are focused on their ultimate goal of claiming the Central California Conference title, but they know it won't be easy.
We're in first place, but it's a good team across the way there; 7-0 isn't indicative of the team over there. We know how good they are,” Acha said. “No matter what, we still have four ball games left in the season.”
As for Turlock, though its aim is still to contend for the CCC crown, the majority of focus is on the playoff picture and the injury to its ace pitcher Avila.
“We don't know; it's not good right now,” de la Motte said of Avila's injury. “It's the hip flexor or groin, we're not sure. It'll be a while until we get him back.”
Pitman will host Thursday's game as it looks to further extend and secure a first-place position. Winchman is expected to throw for the Pride and Marcus Lopez is expected to throw for the Bulldogs.
“We've got four games to play and everybody's trying to shoot for the playoffs this time of year. We want to turn around and play well, but bottom line is we've got four games to go and we have to get after it,” de la Motte said.
“We're just taking one game at a time. Thursday's all we care about, we haven't even thought about Friday,” Acha said.