Nate McGhee doesn’t get caught up in the big moments.
While the Merced College sophomore pitcher is every bit as susceptible to nerves and adrenaline as the rest of us, he has the ability to treat them as background noise. Instead of focusing on the strength of his opponent, the quality of his pitching counterpart or the magnitude of a game’s outcome, McGhee concerns himself with the things he can control. He doesn’t waste any mental effort beyond pitching down in the zone, hitting his spots and staying ahead in the count.
It’s one of the traits that’s allowed him to compile 10 wins for the Blue Devils this season, tied for second in the state. And it makes McGhee the perfect choice to toe the rubber on Friday afternoon as the seventh-seeded Blue Devils open their best-of-three NorCal Regional series with No. 11 Cabrillo. The first pitch is set for 3 p.m. Game 2 will be played at 11 a.m. on Saturday and a third game would follow 3 p.m. if necessary.
“Getting the ball in Game 1 is pretty huge to me,” McGhee said. “I think I’m confident enough to go out there and pitch how I pitch. I don’t really worry too much about who the opponent is or the stats of the other pitcher. If I go out and pitch the way I’m capable of pitching, the other stuff tends to take care of itself.”
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There’s a lot of unpredictability that comes in these best-of-three series, but the one thing that is certain is that MC (26-14) hasn’t been handed an easy opening round.
Cabrillo (27-13) finished second in the Coast Conference and ranks No. 7 in the NorCal, right behind the No. 6 Blue Devils, thanks in part to wins over No. 1 San Mateo, No. 4 Ohlone and No. 5 San Joaquin Delta.
“Beyond learning tendencies, we never put too much focus on who our opponent is,” Merced College coach Chris Pedretti said. “As long as we pitch well and play defense, we believe we’ll be in any game. We’re just starting to collect information from some of our common opponents. The one thing I’ve heard consistently so far is that their No. 1 starter is the real deal.”
Brett de Geus went 8-2 on the season for the Seahawks and his 1.55 ERA is tied for sixth best in the state. The sophomore right-hander has been the model of consistency for Cabrillo, allowing two runs or less in 10 of his 12 starts. He has yet to yield more than three runs in a game and has gone at least six innings in all of his starts.
McGhee has been just as good. The sophomore fought off an ugly first start back after missing all of 2016 with a shoulder injury, to post a 2.26 ERA with 77 strikeouts in 87 2/3 innings pitched.
“Statistically, our numbers are almost the same,” McGhee said. “We’ve pitched the same number of innings, but baseball on the coast and baseball here in the Valley are two very different things. I think out offense can give him trouble and we have the advantage of playing at home, which is huge for us.”
Home has treated the Blue Devils well as they went 15-4 at Blue Devil Field this season and haven’t dropped a home tilt since Feb. 24.
Led by Alex Pallios (.380), MC has been the better offensive team, posting a .310 team average to Cabrillo’s .286 and scoring 75 more runs on the year. The Seahawks enter with a slight pitching edge, yielding 162 runs to the Blue Devils’ 172 in the same amount of contests.
“I’ve seen enough of these series to know, you never know what to expect,” Pedretti said. “It’s all about which teams do the better job executing. Momentum can swing quickly from one game to the next, so it’s about trying to remain consistent. If we can play the way we’ve played throughout the regular season, we like our chances.”