It was a war of attrition on Tuesday as Pitman High hosted Turlock High in their third and final matchup of the season. The Bulldogs (8-7 CCC) and Pride (9-6 CCC) had split their first two meetings of the year but Tuesday’s matchup was about more than bragging rights, it was about third place in the Central California Conference and playoffs.
It took extra innings to decide a winner but in the bottom of the ninth Pitman found a way to pull it off. With two outs and a full count, Steven Kha hit a line drive into center field and brought his runners home, ending the game 1-0 and sending his team onto the field in fits of celebration.
“Every kid dreams of hitting a hit to win the ball game and he did it,” Pitman’s head coach Mick Tate said of Kha.
“It can’t get much closer,” Turlock’s head coach Mark de la Motte said.
Unlike their previous matchups, Turlock and Pitman had trouble jumpstarting their respective offensive attacks. Casual baseball fans may not have found the rivalry game particularly interesting but for those diehard fans — those who enjoy defensive battles — Tuesday’s game was a must-see. Pitman’s Damian Sousa-Johnson and Turlock’s Tyler Murphy manned the hill each inning in what wound up as a Sousa-Johnson shutout.
“He basically carried us on his shoulders,” Tate said of Sousa-Johnson. “He made great pitches and got people out when they were in scoring position.”
Although it was a defensive game through and through both teams had scoring opportunities early in the game. In the top of the second inning Turlock’s Murphy walloped the ball into center field for a triple with no outs. The next three Bulldog batter stepped up to the plate and walked back down, leaving Murphy on third. Similarly, in the bottom of the second, Pitman’s Adam Nascimento hit a double that was followed by a Kha single, putting runners on first and third base. A tag out and strike out left Nascimento on third, however, and the score unchanged.
“We had some chances early to score and just couldn’t get it done,” de la Motte said. “We couldn’t get the big hit; it’s kind of been our story all year.”
After hours of grueling play under the hot sun the game ended in the ninth inning with Kha’s game winning line drive. Turlock’s players watched as their season ended and Pitman’s players began to prepare for the continuation of their season. The scene was nearly identical to Turlock’s win over Pitman a season ago in the final conference game.
“I thought it would come down to the last game of the year,” de la Motte said. “They returned the favor.”
“This was basically a rival game that turned into our first playoff game,” Tate said. “These kids grew up playing each other and none of them wanted to take the back seat.”
Pitman will face either Lincoln High or Lodi High in the first round of section playoffs. As for the Bulldogs, they will have to wait until next season for redemption and revenge.
“We have a lot of guys coming back who learned the hard way and really improved,” de la Motte said. “We’re looking forward to next year; we’ll be back and better.”