Grab your peanuts and Cracker Jacks folks; it’s time for baseball in the Valley. Turlock and Pitman high’s players are swinging their bats and warming up their arms in preparation for the 2012 season. The Bulldogs and Pride are projected to be teams to beat in the Central California Conference alongside Buhach Colony High and Merced High in what is sure to be an exciting season for players and fans alike.Last year the Bulldogs earned their second consecutive CCC championship but had to share it with the Bears. Turlock also advanced to the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Final but came up short against St. Mary’s High. This year Turlock intends to claim the league title once again and get back to the postseason for a chance at retribution. The feat will be a challenge as nearly every player from last year’s team is gone.
“We graduated almost everybody,” Turlock’s head coach Mark de la Motte said. “We’re young, but I think we’re going to come on strong.”
Fortunately for Turlock, last season’s leading hitter, Ryan Cumberland, will be returning to help a defensively apt Bulldog team put points on the board. Cumberland will be joined by a roster deep with talent from last year’s freshman and junior varsity championship teams. The Bulldogs face their first test as a team today against Sierra High at home.
“Our goal is to play hard, have a good attitude and get better every day,” de la Motte said. “We always want to win the league no matter what, but for us we want to get back to the subsection.”
The Pride’s 2011 season saw them miss out on the CCC championship by one game and lose to Tracy High in the first round of playoffs. This season Pitman’s motivation not only stems from last year’s shortcomings, but the fact that it will be the last season with head coach Mick Tate at the helm.
“It’s time to move on and let the youngsters take over,” Tate said.
Tate has coached Pitman’s varsity baseball team since the school’s inception but still hasn’t managed to bring a league title home. The players and coaches plan on changing that this season.
“Hopefully, we send him off with a banner,” assistant head coach John Acha said.
To do that the Pride will have to excel from the mound and count on talented, yet inexperienced, pitchers to carry the team. After losing both its aces from last season Pitman will rely on returner Damian Sousa-Johnson, the most seasoned pitcher, as well as Grayson Kennedy, who missed last season with an elbow injury, and Golden Valley High transfer Tyler Arnsberg.
AJ Derr and Steven Kha will lead Pitman from the plate as part of a senior class that has experienced a high degree of success in the past. Tate and Acha hope the familiarity and cohesiveness amongst their players will result in a championship season.
“The league’s going to be very competitive this year,” Acha said.
“I think we have an outstanding shot,” Tate said. “The key for us is going to be pitching.”
Pitman has already played three games and will play its fourth today against Ceres High at home.