The Turlock and Pitman baseball programs enter the 2015 season coming from different places — the Bulldogs from earning three league titles in four years and the Pride from a disappointing 8-7 season in 2014 — but both hoping to clinch a top spot in the Central California Conference. Both teams have the potential to reach their shared goal.
Turlock was crowned the CCC champions last season after tallying a 13-2 league record and making a deep postseason run.
“League season was great year, we had good players that worked hard and a great coaching staff so it was successful,” said Turlock head coach Mark de la Motte. “We were disappointed we didn't win it all, but besides that it was a good year, an enjoyable one.”
After losing two Division I players in Brett Cumberland and Austin Bush, who were dynamic on the diamond, the Bulldogs are looking quite different. However, the loss hasn't slowed the Bulldogs down much as they are off to a 2-0 start in the preseason.
The Turlock offense is also off to a stellar start, having racked up 16 runs in the two-game span while the defense has allowed only three runs.
“We are going to compete. We can't blow people away like in previous years, but we will compete every inning,” said de la Motte. “We will be fun to watch. We have four senior pitchers and some good junior pitchers.”
After a great sophomore season with the 'Dogs, Jon Temple is back for his junior season and should be a difference maker for Turlock.
Seniors Alex Pallios and Marcus Lopez look to be the ones in the outfield doing most of the work along with Temple due to their experience, with a mix of Peyton Dunseth and many juniors on the deep roster.
In addition, seniors Anthony 'Bubba' Moreno and Brian Mendez provide something different for the Bulldog team with their great contact swings and speed as they look to be the one two-punch in the middle of the infield at second and shortstop.
“We have a little more team speed this year and might be deeper with our lineup. We don't have the two or three big bats, but we are deep everywhere really,” said de la Motte. “Our pitching throws strikes and is solid and we just want to compete and see where we go after that.”
Competing in the CCC this year will be a very tough task for any team.
Pitman is entering the season with vastly more experience —and a desire to compete.
“Last year health really bit us,” said Pitman head coach John Acha. “But this year just having all the returners we have since we were junior heavy is a great sense of leadership and camaraderie on this team. I really enjoy coming out with these guys every day; they are a lot of fun and that just helps out.”
Junior shortstop and pitcher Matt Carrigg is back for his third year with the Pitman varsity team and is seeking to lead the Pride to the promised land—a league title and perhaps a deep playoff run.
Carrigg already has five hits in seven at-bats during the preseason, along with three RBI and a walk-off RBI in the first game of the season.
“Obviously having Carrigg helps a lot, along with Colton Evans,” said Acha of his junior starters. “Also, seniors Coleton Horner and Zach Wichman are huge for us and if we get Daren Finney healthy then he will contribute well to us.”
Horner was arguably the most consistent player of both Turlock schools after getting a hit in every single game in 2014, which led to a 26-game hitting streak along with a batting average of .468 in those 26 contests that included 20 RBI and an on-base percentage of .531 in 79 at-bats.
“We have good balance, good pitching and some good depth and speed. Really, it's a balanced lineup throughout. I would also say that we are balanced across as far as grade level,” Acha said. “We have some guys who were hungry in the offseason and worked hard, lifted weights and hit the cages a lot.
“Last year some games got away from us that shouldn't have and we just want to make sure we left it out on the field and I think that is on the back of their minds, the returners that is and just leave it out there and things will fall into place.”
Both Turlock and Pitman will have to adjust to a change in the league this year that sees teams play three league games a week instead of two like in prior seasons.
“It is something we as coaches agreed on to develop more pitching and also a bigger break for Easter,” de la Motte said.
The preseason will continue on Thursday for Pitman as the Pride host Manteca at 3:45 p.m. Turlock will travel to Lincoln High for its next contest at 3:30 p.m. on Friday.