It would be foolish to say the playoffs will be easy for the Modesto Junior College baseball team. But after the Pirates spent their first season scrapping in the tough Big 8 Conference, the playoffs don't seem quite so daunting.
Modesto opens Northern California Super Regional play today at 3 p.m. in Hayward, taking on Chabot, the No. 5 seed. Chabot was second in the Coast South Conference with an 18-7 record.
The No. 12 Pirates (21-18) defeated the Gladiators (26-15) twice this season, 3-0 on Feb. 26 at home, and 15-12 in Hayward on March 20. After the second loss to Modesto, Chabot went on to win 11 of its next 12 games.
But their wins over Chabot give the Pirates confidence heading into the best-of-three playoff series. They're also hungry, disappointed with a 10-11 finish in the Big 8.
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"We've beaten or come close to the best in this league," center fielder Dwight Nixon said after Modesto's Big 8 finale on May 1, a 10-4 loss to Santa Rosa. "We'll definitely be a force in the playoffs."
Modesto, an annual NorCal playoff contender, hopes to make it to the second round of the regionals for the first time since 2004. The Pirate roster is full of high school Most Valuable Players who are used to success on the field. Some of the past accomplishments serve as a reminder of Modesto's pedigree.
Nixon is the last product of the 2001 under-14 Babe Ruth World Series champion team from Bel Passi to play at MJC. In 2002, his Babe Ruth team was a top-10 finisher in the USSSA 15-and-under Major World Series.
Catcher Ross Brayton and outfielder Blane Cox were first-team all-state selections in high school, Brayton at Escalon High and Cox at Payette High in Idaho.
Versatile Isaac Duran was on the East Stanislaus all-star team out of Ceres that went on to win the United States Tournament of Champions 13-and-under World Series. He pitched a no-hitter for Johansen High in 2005. High school and MJC teammate David Vancas hit a homer in a game he also pitched, a complete game 2-1 win.
Pitcher Spencer Arroyo will play for the University of California on a full scholarship. Arroyo was the Pirates' only Big 8 first-team selection. He went 4-2 in 14 appearances totaling 77 innings. He has a 2.22 ERA after striking out 48 and allowing 81 hits and 21 walks.
Pitcher Karl Maas from Tracy's West High has signed with Sacramento State and pitcher Danny Price, the ex- Ripon High star, with Santa Barbara's Westmont College.
First baseman Joey Blakely and infielder Sammy Bryant were named to the Big 8 second team. Blakely leads Modesto with a .336 average, with 12 doubles, four home runs and 27 RBIs, all team highs. Bryant is hitting .303 with three homers and 18 RBIs.