‘I knew I was a better player.’ Atwater ace dealing heading into Easter tournament.

Atwater junior pitcher Nathaniel Silva (12) delivers a pitch during a game against Buhach Colony at Buhach Colony High School in Atwater, Calif., on Tuesday, April 2, 2019.
Atwater junior pitcher Nathaniel Silva (12) delivers a pitch during a game against Buhach Colony at Buhach Colony High School in Atwater, Calif., on Tuesday, April 2, 2019.

Like many of his Atwater High teammates, Nathaniel Silva wasn’t happy with his performance last season.

The Falcons were disappointed in an 8-19 season that saw them win just two Central California Conference games. As for Silva, he hit just .191 and finished with a 4-5 record on the mound with a 3.55 ERA.

“I knew I was a better player than what I showed,” Silva said. “I tried to put as much work in during the offseason. I wanted to improve this season.”

Silva’s work has paid off. The junior leads the Falcons with a .418 average and 21 runs scored. He’s also developed into an ace with a 4-1 record and a 1.17 ERA.

Atwater has bounced back as a team as well. The Falcons are 15-4 overall and 6-2 in the CCC.

There’s a lot of excitement and energy surrounding the Falcons program as they prepare to host the 60th annual Fran Oneto/Atwater-Winton Lions Easter Tournament next week at Memorial Ballpark.

The eight-team tournament is the highlight for any Atwater season as the team plays under the lights all week in front of big crowds. The Falcons’ success this season just adds to the fun.

“The fact that it’s the 60th anniversary, we’re doing well this year and we’re playing St. Joe’s, who is really good, on Monday, I think we’ll draw a big crowd,” said Atwater coach Jarrod Pimentel. “Golden Valley is in it this year. Livingston should draw. I think we’ll have nice crowds all week.”

The tournament is divided into two pools. Pool A is comprised of Atwater, Ripon St. Joseph and Downey and Pool B is made up of Golden Valley, Turlock Christian, Mountain House and Livingston.

AK Atwater vs St. Joseph Baseball 11.JPG
Atwater’s Nathaniel Silva (2) fields a ground ball at shortstop during a game against St. Joseph Notre Dame in the Atwater Easter Baseball Tournament at Memorial Ballpark in Atwater, Calif., last season. Andrew Kuhn

The winner of the two pools will meet in the championship game on Thursday.

Monday’s schedule begins at 10 a.m. with Golden Valley facing Mountain House. The Cougars have a quick turnaround with a 1 p.m. game against Livingston. Downey will play Ripon at 4 p.m. and Atwater hosts St. Joseph at 7.

Atwater has invited many past former players and coaches to take part in a ceremony before Atwater’s game on Monday night to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the tournament.

“It’s a great atmosphere,” Silva said. “It’s one of the longest tournament going in California. All the teams want to be in it and we get to play on a great field.”

Silva divides most of his time between the pitcher’s mound and shortstop. He rotates with senior Jakob Faulk.

“They both play really good shortstop,” Pimentel said. “Usually when you take your best player and put him on the mound, you lose something at shortstop. With these guys it’s a wash.”

The Falcons success this season is a product of work put in during the summer and fall. That’s how Silva has added more than 200 points to his batting average and become one of the top pitchers in the CCC.

“He had a really good summer,” Pimentel said. “The whole team did. A lot of these guys had high expectations last year and underachieved. They worked a ton during the summer and fall.”

For Silva, it was all about confidence and changing his approach at the plate.

“My biggest reason for improvement is mental,” he said. “Last year I took a lot of pitches. This year I’m more aggressive. I’m seeing a pitch I like and swinging at it instead of taking a bunch of pitches. On the mound, I’m way more confident. I trust my defense and I trust what my catcher is calling.”

“I think he’s matured quite a bit,” Pimentel said. “He’s worked on his swing, but most of his improvement has come from the neck up. He got a year of varsity experience. His attitude has changed this year.”

Silva and the Falcons are hoping to make the playoffs for the first time since 2014. That was also the last time Atwater won its own Easter tournament.

“We’re having way more fun this year,” Silva said. “Winning games is much more fun. We have a lot of confidence. Last year, once we got down, we pretty much knew we weren’t coming back. This year, even if we get down, we know we can come back, no matter who we’re playing.”