The sun is out and the grass is a deep hue of green—it’s time to play baseball.
Less than five miles separates Turlock High from Pitman High but players from the two schools are in their own world on the practice field; warming up their shoulders, cracking their bats, and crushing each other’s mitts with the stitches of a baseball.
Last season Turlock and Pitman fell short of a Central California Conference title but the Pride earned a small victory in their final league game when they beat the Bulldogs 1-0, denying them a trip to the playoffs, and securing a post-season berth of their own.
Neither team has forgotten last season’s events. For Pitman, the past is a benchmark to be surpassed. For Turlock, it’s motivation to excel.
“We were a fourth place team, that was the bottom line last year,” Turlock’s head coach Mark de la Motte said. “These guys want to prove they’re not a fourth place team.”
Along with their season ending loss to rival Pitman, the Bulldogs lost a pair of games by one run last season, making their failure to earn a post-season appearance all the more difficult. But Turlock doesn’t plan on history repeating itself this season.
Turlock returns with a solid core of veterans who are slated to contribute on both offense and defense. Tyler Murphy and Nick Voumard will take the mound as one of the best pitching tandems in the CCC and will be joined by veterans Luis Mendez, Tyler Lucas, and Dakota Edwards—back after missing all of last season with an arm injury—in a pitching pool that has depth on its side.
“We got some good arms,” de la Motte said. “I got five senior pitchers that can all throw strikes, so it’s a nice setup for us. We just need to score runs.”
Brett Cumberland and Gavin Gaffaney are two of the Bulldogs expected to boost Turlock’s offensive output along with Cameron Matsumura—another player back from injury—Austin Bush, Blake Cederlind, and Mendez.
“If our offense can improve, if we can score some runs, we’re going to be pretty hard to beat,” de la Motte said. “I think we have a chance to do some damage if we can be consistent in league.”
While Turlock enjoys the luxury of a seasoned roster, Pitman High is busy refining a team of fresh players with limited playing time at the varsity level.
In more ways than one it’s a new chapter for the Pride this season. For the first time in school history Mick Tate is absent from the baseball diamond, having retired and passed the torch to first year head coach John Acha. In addition to Tate’s departure, eight players are gone from last year’s team, leaving Pitman with only two returning starters—Brennan Hauser and Zach Gurr.
“We got some work to do so but we got a good group of guys that want to work hard and get better,” Acha said. “We’re still getting a feel for our starting lineup. We’ll try and get that dialed in with the Pedretti Tournament.”
Though Pitman might not have many returning starters, many of its players were on last season’s team and just didn’t get much time on the field. Jordan Gonzalez is one such player, having played in the latter part of the season after an injury to a teammate, and is starting to emerge as a top pitcher for Pitman. He will be joined on the mound by Trevor Chaney and Derek Finney as the core of the Pride defense.
“If he can be consistent on that mound and throw strikes, he’ll be our number one,” Acha said of Gonzalez. “It really just depends on who throws strikes for us though.”
Freshman Matt Carrigg is the youngest face on the team but he is also one of the best hitters along with Alex Sniezek and Wyatt Clapper, a group that will be crucial in Pitman’s success in the CCC.
Both teams have experience winning and losing this pre-season but their true test before CCC play begins Thursday in the 29th Atch Pedretti/Turlock Morning Kiwanis Tournament. The Pride won the Pedretti title for the first time last year and are looking for a repeat, but Turlock would like nothing more than to deny the Pride and claim its home tournament trophy.
Though the three day tournament will be used by the teams to hammer out their lineups and correct mistakes, there’s no doubt that spirits will be running high with competition.
“It’s always one of our goals to win our tournament,” de la Motte said.
“It’s always a tough tournament with really good teams so it will be a good test,” Acha said.
Turlock hosts Johansen High at 3:30 Thursday while Pitman hosts Lincoln High at the same time.