The Turlock and Pitman high baseball teams have a history of success in the Central California Athletic League — one they hope to repeat this year.
“For us the message is to play a tempo game where you are always on the throttle and no brakes,” said THS head coach Sean Gilbert. “It is a playoff atmosphere right away with the preseason schedule and we want to duplicate that, at that speed, that tempo, that velocity, and hopefully, not make mistakes if or when we get to that situation, because one little mistake will cost you and that kind of happened to us last year, but it was still a great season.”
Pitman won 11 of 15 league games in 2019, played while Turlock went 14-1 in the CCAL and won the title outright.
“Our expectations are the same every year, we expect to go out and compete at a high level, and we expect to play good baseball,” said Pitman head coach Andy Walker. “I think we keep high expectations for our players and the program and are looking forward to the season.”
With a new year brings new obstacles.
Turlock lost the majority of its starters from a year ago, however, they will be relying heavily on their five starters who are committed to major Division-I universities. The list includes seniors Tyler Soderstrom (UCLA), Andy Owen (University of Southern California) and Cole Carrigg (San Diego State University). Pitcher Clay Longinotti (San Diego) is also committed, as well as junior Dom Rodriguez (Cal-Berkeley).
“From playing catch, being on time and the way we stretch, the goal is that we are going to hold one of these guys to the highest standard we can,” said Gilbert.
Last year’s Bulldogs reached the second round of the Division-I Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs before falling to Jesuit, 4-2. Owen started that game for Jesuit prior to transferring back to Turlock High, where he spent his first two seasons.
Now Owen is back on a team that has some big goals, but to get there, they need to get ready in preseason.
Some of the pre-league opponents that Turlock has scheduled include Buchanan from Clovis, Clovis North, Lodi, San Joaquin Memorial, Folsom, Lincoln of Stockton, Oak Ridge, St. Mary’s, Saint Francis (Mountain View) and Elk Grove.
“We try telling everyone that it is a blessing and a curse, because we are expected to play well,” said Gilbert. “That is the expectation, we have to practice that way, but at the same time, a lot of people would love to coach this team, so we are going to stay on them and make it seem like they are not there yet and hold them to it, and push them as hard as we can. Hopefully, the rest come along but the returners we have do a great job of leading.”
Pitman, on the other hand, welcomes in a transfer pitcher from Turlock High in Justin Hill (University of Pacific), and is looking strong with their two-ace rotation that also includes Kade Morris (Nevada-Reno).
Other Pride returners include Jay Huerta, Evan Fanconi, Anthony Tullio, Mateo Garcia and Dylan Fuller.
“We have a lot of guys returning and a lot of guys with varsity experience and expecting big things from them this season,” said Walker. “We have a lot of depth at the pitching position and we have guys with a lot of experience throwing the ball. I believe we can throw anyone out there and they will give us a great opportunity to win games. We had a lot of guys working hard in the offseason.”
Last year, Pitman reached the Division-I Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs before falling in the first round.
This year, the team is focused on taking it one game at a time and see where they go from there.
“Honestly, we are just focusing on El Capitan, our first game, and we will take it one game at a time and make progress as we move forward with the season,” said Walker. “We want to compete in a tough preseason and by the time we reach league we will be competitive. We have a lot of guys returning with varsity experience and that will help us offensively, a lot of gritty at-bats and good team speed; we are looking forward to it.”
With 11 league victories last year, Pitman finished in second place, but it won’t be an easy task to dethrone the defending CCAL champs in Turlock, however, in a crosstown matchup, anything is possible.
“Our league top to bottom will be very competitive overall. Every team is much improved from last year, and it should be a well-balanced season for everybody,” Walker added.
Pitman kicks off the season with a pre-league contest against El Capitan at 3:30 p.m. Monday.Turlock will square off with Clovis North on the road at 1 p.m. Saturday.