Davis High's baseball season ended with a thud a year ago, an 11-1 playoff loss to St. Mary's of Stockton -- a game that lasted only five innings.
From the first inning, when the nervous Spartans committed two errors that led to four runs, it was clear they were not ready for such pressure.
That loss convinced coach Kevin Ruiz to strengthen his schedule, casting aside some of his traditional foes in favor of playoff-caliber programs.
"My staff and I put together a list of teams we thought would be playoff teams this year," he said. "This served two purposes. One, it gave us a chance to see them in person and start a scouting report. Two, it prepared our kids for the level of play we expect come playoff time."
It also saddled Davis with four losses in its first eight games, after starting the 2008 season at 7-1, but that didn't give Ruiz a cause for concern.
"We lost to Lincoln and Salinas, who have very good programs, but we also beat Buhach Colony and Tokay," Ruiz noted. "We had a lot of close games, learning how to stay loose in pressure situations."
Six of the first eight games were decided by two runs or less, including a 3-2 win over Buhach Colony -- The Bee's No. 2-ranked large school.
Ryan Stice and Jake Sisco, Davis' primary starters, combined on a four-hitter to beat BC. Stice followed that with last week's 7-0, no-hitter over Modesto -- making him 3-0.
"Stice and Sisco have the most experience as starters, however, it takes a special kid to come into a game with runners on base, your team's back against the wall and compete," said Ruiz, who will rely on Martin Limon and Michael Creamer for relief.
While pitching is at the forefront of Davis' success, the return of shortstop Jimmy Myers has provided a boost to the lineup. He missed the last three games last year, all losses, with a fractured pelvis.
He's batting .474 and went 4-for-4 with four RBIs in last week's 12-4 win over second-place Enochs. He's struck out once in 46 plate appearances and is 10 of 12 in stolen bases.
"I cannot say enough about Jimmy's leadership. He is like having another coach on the staff," said Ruiz, noting Myers is a three-year starter. "He's always talking to his teammates about situations."
Davis is 5-0 after its initial round of the Modesto Metro Conference, but plays every team twice more this spring.
Motivation, Ruiz says, is no problem for this year's team.
"The Davis baseball program has not hung a (conference title) banner since 1997," Ruiz said. "The players on this team have finished second to Beyer each year. Their goal is to change that."
Fittingly, Davis resumes its MMC schedule today when it hosts Beyer and the teams will play Thursday at Beyer.