Sports

James Burns: Fresno City is a wolf dressed in Rams clothing

James Burns, sports editor
James Burns, sports editor

Nothing changes.

So said Merced College skipper Chris Pedretti, straight-faced and serious, when the conversation turned to today's start of the Fresno City series.

And he's right.

Nothing about the way his baseball team swings it, throws it or fields it should change.

But it will. More on that in a sec.

The Blue Devils are 16-5 and 6-0 in Central Valley Conference play. They've won seven straight games and are lighting up scoreboards around the Central Valley like PG&E.

"To me, the thing that sticks out is the depth we have," said Pedretti, the Blue Devils' even-keeled skipper of 27 years.

"We've had a lot of different starting lineups and our pitching has been good and deep.

"The one thing, the one real difference, is the number of quality players we have here."

But is it enough?

Can the Blue Devils finally best the wolf dressed in Rams clothing?

Fresno City, the perennial Central Valley Conference champions, comes to town today for the first of a three-game series.

Sophomore Logan Todd will take the mound for the Blue Devils, hoping to continue a string of dominating performances from the bump.

"I think we're the little stepchild of Fresno," Todd said. "They're always winning titles. This year is different. We're rolling right now."

In the past, though, that hasn't mattered much.

Not against the Rams.

In the last two years, Fresno City is 6-2 against really sound, really explosive Merced College baseball teams.

Five of those games have been decided by three runs or less, three have been one-run ballgames and another has stretched into the 10th inning.

"I think anything that has happened in the past stays in the past," Pedretti said. "Every year, it's a different group of kids. The majority of our guys weren't here last year.

"They know Fresno. They know that they're a very good team. It's just like when we play (College of the Sequoias). It's going to be that way."

Only it's not.

This is Fresno City, a team that shares the CVC limelight with no one. The same villanous juco athletic program that has blown MC's house right off its foundation in football, basketball and baseball.

With a huff and a puff, the big, bad wolf has always found a way.

"This is a good measuring point for both of us to see where we're at, but our goals are bigger than this week and how we do against Fresno," Pedretti said.

"It's not going to make or break our season."

Pedretti isn't straying away from the company line, probably to maintain the status quo in his dugout, but...

The second the bus doors fly open and Fresno City steps out, everything will change.

It's inevitable.

It's Fresno City.

There's emotion, history and pride tied tightly to this regional rivalry ... this three-game series.

And whether you've played in it or not, you feel it.

You feel it on every pitch, every at-bat and every routine grounder.

You feel it the way Derek Jeter and David Ortiz might feel the crunch of a Yankees-Red Sox showdown in the Bronx.

It's how you handle the nerves and hundreds of interested eyes that define winning and losing.

Sophomore ace Bradin Hagens knows. He started the first of four losses to FCC last season -- a 7-6 extra-inning loss in Fresno.

He was wired like a 6-year-old boy on soda and sweets.

"I was pretty amped up, a little overwhelmed," Hagens said. "You start to think and overanalyze, worrying about making the perfect pitch or hitting the right spot.

"It's hard to not think about Fresno City," he added. "We've just got to trust what the coaches are telling us."

And hope nothing changes.

Except the series losing streak.

James Burns is sports editor of the Sun-Star. He can be reached at jburns@mercedsun-star.com.

STARTING PITCHER: Sophomore Logan Todd will get the start for the Blue Devils.

RANKINGS: Merced (16-5, 6-0 CVC) is ranked No. 5 in Northern California; Fresno City is No. 10.

ONLINE: For exclusive interviews with the Merced College baseball team, visit: www.mercedsunstar.com.

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