TURLOCK — The last time Pitman High's Clay Cozzitorto took the mound, his pitches were sailing and he gave up six runs in five innings.
"To be successful, I need to keep the ball down and focus on the location," the 5-foot-9, 145-pounder said. "I'm not a power pitcher, so I'm relying on ground balls and defense."
Cozzitorto did his part, persuading batters to chase after his off-speed pitches, and the Pride's defense did the rest.
It was a winning combination, as Pitman used a four-run fifth to pull away for a 7-2 victory over Golden Valley in Wednesday's Central California Conference opener.
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It was third impressive performance for the right-hander (3-1, 1.65 ERA). He threw 10 shutout innings for wins over Modesto and Ceres, and had a complete-game six-hitter in a 7-1 victory over Johansen. The only blemish is the six-run struggle against Del Oro.
"We preach to all our pitchers to keep the ball down and stay ahead of the count," said pitching coach Andy Walker, whose staff boasts a 3.32 ERA.
Cozzitorto struck out four, but he walked none and needed just 75 pitches for the win.
"If I can keep my change-up down in the zone, I get a lot of grounders," he said. "We also work a lot on pickoff plays and those other small things that can make a difference."
Golden Valley (3-9 overall) got eight hits off Cozzitorto, but seven were singles — and many of those runners were erased by Pitman's defense.
Sophomores A.J. Derr and Steven Kha were at the heart one of those defensive gems.
With runners on first and third with one out, Cozzitorto fielded a comebacker and saw the runner trying to score. He threw to Kha at the plate and Kha chased the runner back toward third before throwing to Derr, who slapped on the tag.
Derr, 10 feet down the line, saw the other runner trying to reach third and threw to shortstop Colton Risley — covering third — who applied the tag for the third out.
Cozzitorto made a fine play of his own in the seventh, after GV's back-to-back singles with two out. Just as the Cougars began thinking about a rally, he spun and picked the runner off second to finish it.
Pitman (8-4) had lost its last two games, but opening CCC with a win puts it in position to contend with crosstown rival Turlock (6-2) for the title.
A combination of Pitman's aggressiveness on the bases and GV's miscues in the field produced most of the scoring.
A botched grounder and a wild pitch led to two Pitman runs in the first, then Derr provided a thrill in the fourth. After legging out an infield single and stealing second, he tagged on Brandon Lewis' fly.
The center fielder tumbled as he made a running catch, and that was all Derr needed to see. He kept running and beat the throw to the plate.
Not a bad play for a kid who catches when he's not playing third base.
"He's a great athlete and it's the sort of play we're going to need to make because we're not going to be hitting many over the fences," Pitman coach Mick Tate said.
The Pride finished off Golden Valley in the fifth, as two runs scored on wild pitches and Risley slapped a two-run single into right.