It’s not often that you find a high school athletics program that feels that all of their sports teams in a particular season have a chance to win, but that’s exactly the case at Pitman High. This spring, the Pride will field seven teams, the most ever as they add boys volleyball into the mix, and there’s not a single coach without optimism for the coming months.
Last season, the Pride baseball team achieved a 21-6-1 overall and 12-3 league record enroute to a share of the Central California Athletic League title with crosstown rival Turlock High. Though the 2022 campaign will forever be recognized on a banner inside the school gymnasium, the team feels as if there is still unfinished business.
“Since we got co-champs and we always have to deal with them (Turlock) saying that they beat us both games last year, it gets tiring to hear, so it’s just motivating and makes us want it more,” said pitcher and first baseman Andrew Balentine. “I honestly think we’re putting in 10-times more effort than any program.”
Balentine, who will be headed to Fresno State this fall, is one of 16 seniors on this year’s Pride roster and explained that practices have felt different this year with the chemistry and maturity built over the years.
“This year has just felt better,” he said. “The intensity is better, the energy is better, everybody is much more focused, just everything has been done clean with very little mistakes.”
Senior shortstop Christian Jacinto shared similar sentiments, explaining that the combination of motivation and experience has helped build a unique culture during practices and workouts.
“Everybody has been pumped up and having fun,” Jacinto said. “Us and the boys have been training all offseason and we’re excited to show people what we’ve got.”
Fifth-year head coach Andy Walker believes that having an older roster who are comfortable being around each other has helped them hold each other accountable and push one another to better themselves.
“They’re a good group of kids, not just ballplayers, but kids with great work ethic and character. They spend a lot of time together outside of the field, so there’s a good comradery and they really enjoy being with each other… They’re fun to be around, and at this point they know the expectations and the Pitman way.”
The Pride will travel to Atwater today to take on Buhach Colony, followed by a home game against Lincoln High at 3:30 p.m. Thursday.
Like the baseball squad, the Pride softball team, consisting of five total returners, will be using last year as motivation. In 2022, the Pride went 7-14 overall and 4-11 in CCAL play.
One of the brightest stars in all of spring sports in the region is senior Pride catcher Addie Mettler, who is committed to play at UCLA next spring and is currently the fourth overall high school prospect and number one ranked catching prospect in the nation, according to Extra Innings Softball.
Considering Mettler’s dominance at the plate in previous seasons (.591 batting average, 68 hits, 25 walks, 60 RBI in 40 varsity games), it wouldn’t be a surprise if opposing pitchers opt to give her a free pass to first base.
“She has already shattered all these records, and I think she’ll shatter another one this season for walks,” her father, Greg, joked at her signing day back in November.
To compensate for the expected walks, head coach Joe Lewis and assistant coach Lynette Heinrichs will have to rely on others, such as second baseman Rylee Reeves and outfielder and shortstop Lacie Nycum, who have more than proven themselves at the plate at the varsity level, each hitting over .350 in over 70 at-bats last season.
The Pride’s next home game will be 4 p.m. Tuesday against Modesto High.
TRACK AND FIELD
The Pride track and field team have lost some important student-athletes to graduation, such as Damian Garcia and Ben Plaa. Nevertheless, there are a handful of familiar faces returning to help maintain Pitman as a contender at local meets.
On the topic of familiar faces, Pride football star Joey Stout will once again exchange his football cleats for track spikes. Like on the gridiron, Stout ran wild on the track, making his way all the way to the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Masters, where he grabbed fourth place in the 200-meter dash and helping get a fourth place finish in the 4x400 relay.
On the girls side, the Pride will be led by Utah Tech-bound Maci Day. Day also made a Masters appearance, finishing 16th in the 1600-meter run. In previous years, Day earned the Stanislaus County 3200-meter title and is a two-time member of the All-Stanislaus County track team.
As head coach David Jigour said at Day’s collegiate signing ceremony last month, the team will be looking to help finish her senior season with a “bang.”
The league’s first cluster meet of the season will be held on March 15 at Joe Debely Stadium at Turlock High.
It’s no secret that Turlock High has dominated the regional golf scene for over a decade, winning 16 league titles in 18 years and most recently coming off back-to-back undefeated seasons. Though there is a mountain to climb, Pitman head coach Matt Jeans believes his experienced squad has what it takes to scale it.
“We are looking at making a run for the CCAL title this year,” Jeans said. “We are excited for this upcoming season. We have a great group of guys that have an outstanding work ethic, team chemistry and the drive to win.”
The team chemistry comes easily, as a trio of seniors in Caden Mendonca, Sam Skalinder and Dylan Freeman have worked endlessly together to develop their skills.
“[They] have worked hard to get where they are at, and I expect them to really turn it on once league gets started,” Jeans explained.
The group will also be getting a boost from returning sophomore Roman Piro, who Jeans believes can be a standout in CCAL play this season.
The Pride will next compete in the Oakdale Invitational at the Oakdale Country Club on Monday.
In 2022, the boys and girls swimming teams at Pitman High finished in fourth and fifth place, respectively, in CCAL competition. Despite the end-of-year standings, the Pride had much to be proud of with several personal bests in the pool.
One of the standouts swimmers expected to lead the Pride this season is Rick Vander Veen, who is committed to Adams State University in Colorado next school year. Last season, Vander Veen went undefeated in the 500-yard freestyle and 100-yard backstroke to comfortably win CCAL titles in each class.
The Pride boys and girls teams will host Gregori High at 3:30 p.m. Friday.
Tennis participation at Pitman High is alive and well this year, with 23 players listed on the current roster. As several freshmen and sophomores continue to learn the game and develop as alternates or on doubles teams, head coach Jeff Hayes will be relying on his seniors.
The Pride’s top six singles players consist of the only six seniors on the squad. They are Craig Martin, Russell Olvera, Joel Carrillo, Alex Medina, Isaac Aguilar and Hayden Mauchley.
Hayes isn’t sure where the Pride could finish by season’s end, but nearly two dozen student-athletes who are eager to play the game should be enough to excite any coach.
Pitman will next take on crosstown rivals Turlock at 3 p.m. Thursday at Turlock High.