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College baseball player has seen Central Valley Conference rivalry from both sides

The Fresno City series has a little more meaning for Kory Vitato than most.

Sure, all of the Merced College baseball team's sophomores still feel the sting of last year's four-game sweep by the Rams.

But for Vitato, the Central Valley Conference rivalry is a little more personal.

Why?

He's seen it from both sides.

In 2007, Vitato was donning the red and white of Fresno City as a redshirt freshman.

A year later, the former Merced High star was back in his hometown blue and gold.

"I still know a lot of those guys," Vitato said. "They're pretty good guys and good ballplayers, but I'm just focused on what we're trying to do here."

What the Blue Devils are trying to do is get over the Fresno City hump.

The three-game series gets underway tonight in Merced at 7 p.m. The series will shift to Fresno for a 7 p.m. contest on Thursday and then back to Merced for a 1 p.m. game on Saturday.

While the current NorCal rankings list College of the Sequoias and MC as the CVC favorites, Pedretti and his team know the title still goes through Fresno.

Fresno City has won six of the last seven CVC crowns, with the Blue Devils finishing second to the Rams the last two years.

"Last year they were all close ballgames that we let get away," Vitato said. "Our main focus this year needs to be on finishing.

"When the rivalry gets going you can throw the records and the rankings out.

"We know they're going to be a very good ball club and we need to be ready."

Pedretti hopes this year's scheduling format favors the Blue Devils.

With last year's staggered schedule, Fresno City was able to throw staff ace Ben Whitmore three times against the Blue Devils.

With three games in five days this year, the team with the better depth will likely come out on top.

"It's what I like about the schedule," Pedretti said. "To me, this is what baseball is all about.

"We may have as deep a team as I've had in my 27 years and I think it's going to be an advantage for us."

MC heads into the series playing some excellent baseball.

The Blue Devils (6-0 CVC, 16-5) have won seven straight and have scored at least seven runs in eight of their last nine contests.

MC has averaged 11 runs per game during its current winning streak.

Vitato has been a catalyst during the run.

The sophomore shortstop leads the Blue Devils in home runs, doubles, total bases and is third on the team in runs.

Equally important, Vitato has improved his plate discipline, leading MC with 15 walks.

"I love being the guy up there with runners in scoring position," Vitato said. "I also like being a sparkplug, though.

"Going up with no one on and two out and making something happen.

"Guys in this conference have figured out how to pitch to me, so I get a lot of off-speed pitches away.

"I've worked really hard on learning to lay off that stuff and just shortening up my swing."

Despite MC's current offensive surge, no one is expecting a high-scoring series with Fresno.

"We know both teams can hit," Vitato said. "What's going to make the difference is pitching and defense."

Fresno finds itself in an unfamiliar position coming into the series.

The Rams are hovering under the radar.

A tough nonconference schedule took its toll as Fresno City opened the season just 6-7. The Rams, however, have recently righted the ship.

Fresno (3-0 CVC, 13-7) has also won seven straight heading into today's competition.

"It doesn't matter where they are in the standings, you always know that Fresno will be loaded with talent," said MC pitcher Logan Todd, who will get the start today. "We had some problems earlier in the year, but we think we've worked them out.

"There's a lot of season to play after this, but this series could be a huge confidence boost the rest of the way."

Sean Lynch is a Sun-Star sports writer. He can be reached at 385-2476 or via e-mail at slynch@mercedsun-star.com.

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