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Pride blank Bulldogs to open playoffs
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The Pitman High varsity baseball team celebrates as they walk back to their dugout following a postgame huddle after defeating the Ceres High Bulldogs 5-0 in the first round of the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs on Tuesday (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

It only took the Pitman High Pride around an hour and a half to take care of business against the Bulldogs of Ceres High on Tuesday afternoon in the first round of the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division II baseball playoffs. It was a combination of efficient pitching from Pitman lefty Drew Walker and one big offensive inning that resulted in the Pride’s quick 5-0 victory.

The Pride, the top seed in the Division II bracket, did the bulk of their scoring in the second inning. The scoring was started by senior Cristian Jacinto, who drove in Brandon Leon with an RBI double. The very next batter, senior Aidan Garcia broke things open with a double of his own, driving in Jacinto, Dominic Damante and Karsen Valenti to jump out to a 4-0 lead.

“I was excited to ride off of Cristian’s momentum,” Garcia said. “We’re dangerous as a 1-2 combo. When Cris gets on, usually I get on. Getting that hit, it felt good. It was extremely important to get ahead. In the playoffs, we need to take any runs we can get, any leads we can get.”

Pitman head coach Andy Walker once again offered an abundance of praise for Jacinto, who has led off for the Pride throughout the year.

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Pitman High’s Aidan Garcia slides safely into second base after clearing the bases with a double in the second inning of Tuesday’s playoff game against the Ceres High Bulldogs (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

“For anybody, when it’s win or go home, it’s natural to press a little bit, and I felt like that at-bat gave us a bit of relaxation. It let us refocus and reset and play good baseball,” Walker said. “Like I’ve said, Cristian has been that guy for us setting the tone. It was a good at-bat and he sets the tone, and he definitely set the tone there for that big hit [from Garcia] right after.”

Pitman added a fifth and final insurance run in the sixth inning when Damante scored on a Ceres throwing error.

As for the Ceres offense, they were held in check by Walker throughout the game. The senior tossed 6 2/3 innings, striking out nine while surrendering just two hits and three walks. Two of those three walks came with two outs in the seventh inning, leading head coach Andy Walker to bring in Brock Fanconi in relief. After Fanconi gave up a leadoff single to load the bases, he quickly eased any anxiety in the Pitman dugout forcing a groundout to end the game.

“I think Drew hit a bit of a wall and ran out of gas, but he was dominant and he’s been dominant for us all year. For him, you can’t get any better than that other than getting that one last out,” Walker said. “He’s been our go-to guy all year. We know what we’ll get when he’s on the mound. He just throws a lot of strikes and gets it done and they play good defense behind him. I thought it was atypical outing for him, and that’s saying a lot. For a guy to go out and throw zero after zero after zero, it’s not easy for anybody at any level.”

Next up for the Pride will be a quarterfinal meeting with the Mustangs of Rodriguez High (Fairfield). The #9 seed Mustangs will be coming to the Pitman High campus on Thursday with tons of momentum after knocking off undefeated Linden High (23-0) by a 1-0 on Tuesday. During the regular season, the Mustangs put together a 15-10 overall record and an 11-4 record in the Monticello Empire League. Meanwhile, the Pride finished as Central California Athletic League champions with a 18-6-1 overall record and a 13-1 record in league play

“At this point, anything can happen,” Walker said. “Baseball is a different game. I’ve been telling the kids about last year and how the #1 seed lost to the #16 seed in both Division I and II. The numbers don’t mean anything at this point. Baseball is a weird game and it’s not like football or basketball where the more dominant team from the season is more likely to win… You just have to prepare and do the little things right and hope the baseball gods are on your side that day.”

First pitch on Thursday at the Pitman High ballfield is scheduled for 4 p.m.