Sean Lynch: Devils can create some separation
03/24/2009 12:06 AM
03/24/2009 12:10 AM
There's a log jam atop the Central Valley Conference baseball standings.
Four teams have left the rest of the conference in their wake, with one game separating them in the loss column.
Merced College has managed to find its way to the top of that heap with an 11-1 record.
Let's just say the Blue Devils can feel the competition breathing down their necks.
College of the Sequoias (8-1) suffered its first conference lost on Saturday and fell slightly off of the pace.
Taft (10-2) dropped two of three last week to COS, but salvaged the series with its victory on Saturday.
Fresno City (7-2) has been perfect since losing two of three to the Blue Devils, and remains lurking in the background.
With talent and depth across the board, MC coach Chris Pedretti expects the CVC-title race to be a dog fight until the very last game.
Still, MC finds itself with an opportunity this week to create some all important separation atop the standings.
The Blue Devils open a three-game set with Taft today at Blue Devil Diamond.
First pitch is set for 6 p.m.
Meanwhile, down in Fresno, the Rams will start a three-game series with COS.
With the standings as they are currently, the best-case scenario for MC would be a three-game sweep of Taft and for Fresno City to take two of three games from Sequoias.
That would put the Blue Devils two losses clear of everyone else heading into next week's showdown with COS -- NorCal's No. 6 ranked team.
Pedretti feels it's a little early to breakdown all the possible scenarios.
"You know the top teams are going to be playing each other eventually, it just happens they're all doing it this week," Pedretti said. "I think it's too early to start cheering for one team or another.
"You may want one team to win this week, and then next week you'd wish it had gone differently.
"All we can do is focus on Taft and worry about what we have to do to keep ourselves playing good baseball."
While there is still plenty of conference play left -- MC will face the other three frontrunners at least one more time -- the Blue Devil players understand how meaningful this two-week stretch could be for a program that hasn't won a CVC title since 1986.
"It's still early, but it's something that we set in our goals at the beginning of the year," MC starting pitcher Cameron Martin said. "That would be a good accomplishment for the school and all the guys are pulling hard to make that happen."
However things play out between COS and Fresno City, MC's focus is squarely on Taft.
With an excellent pitching staff and an aggressive approach offensively, Pedretti said the two teams matchup very evenly on paper.
"Just looking at their stats, they pitch pretty well. Their pitchers get a lot of strikeouts," Pedretti said. "They steal a lot of bases. So it looks like they're a lot like us.
"They rely on pitching and defense and try to manufacture runs."
Taft has a very respectable 3.38 team earned run average and is led by staff ace Shawn Wilyman.
The sophomore from Canada has a 5-1 record with a 1.53 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 58 innings pitched.
He pitched eight strong innings against Sequoias in Saturday's victory, and so MC likely won't face him until the weekend.
Shawn Stuart got a spot start on Saturday, allowing MC ace Bradin Hagens (6-0) to toe the rubber today with some extra rest.
A lot promises to be on the line, but the players are keeping things in perspective.
"We have to treat it like every other series we've had this year," Martin said. "We've got to go into Taft like it's the most important game of the season.
"They're a good team. They beat COS and we know we can't take them lightly.
"We've got a chance to improve our position in the standings and that's what we're going to try to do."
Sean Lynch is a Sun-Star sports writer. He can be reached at 385-2476 or via e-mail at email@example.com.
Taft at Merced College
WHEN: Today at 6 p.m.
RECORDS: Taft 10-2 CVC, 18-9-1; MC 11-1 CVC, 21-6.
SERIES OUTLOOK: MC will host Taft today and then travel down for back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday.
Defense and pitching are what both teams rely on, so expect an exciting and competitive series.
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