Pittsburg Baseball Embraced Its Inner Bad Guy To Win Its First NCS Game Since 1996 And Ignite A Run To The Division I Semifinals •
IMAGE CREDIT: Pittsburg High Baseball/Twitter
Sometimes it pays to be the villain.
That was the mindset the Pittsburg High baseball team adopted as an offense over the final weeks of the season. And it nearly led the Pirates stealing a berth to the North Coast Section Division I championship game as a 12 seed.
Following an 18-win regular season powered by strong pitching and defense, Pittsburg built a late-season offensive identity that sparked a big NCS first-round upset and a run to the semifinals. The effort led to the team being voted the SportSquad NorCal Team Of The Week for the week of May 15-20.
“Over the final weeks of the season and into our (Bay Valley Athletic) League playoffs, we were seeing every team’s top pitcher,” Pittsburg baseball coach Marco Cartagena said. “We were having success against those guys with long, grind-it-out at-bats. And it sort of evolved into this defiant approach that we could find a way to ruin any team’s day.
“So in those last couple weeks we just saw ourselves as the villains going into every park. Our offense clicked with that identity and it powered us.”
The Pirates upset Granada-Livermore in the opening round. The Matadors entered the tournament ranked No. 10 in the SportStars’ NorCal Top 20 and had shut out the Pirates 7-0 back in March.
Pittsburg topped them 8-4 in the rematch.
The Pirates then caught a break when fellow BVAL school Freedom-Oakley pulled off its own upset as the 13 seed — which meant Pittsburg would host a quarterfinal between the teams. They would grind out a 4-2 win in that game for a trip to play top seed De La Salle-Concord in the semifinal.
The Cinderella run would end there, but the villain never dies upon the first blow.
Pittsburg battled back from a 12-2 deficit to have the tying run in the on-deck circle in the bottom of the seventh. De La Salle escaped with a 12-9 win.
“One of the De La Salle infielders told one of our kids late in the game, ‘You guys just don’t go away,’” Cartagena said. “That was just the team we became down the stretch. We were just resilient.”
De La Salle went on to win its sixth section title two days later, topping Clayton Valley-Concord 7-3. The Spartans also shut out Buchanan-Clovis 6-0 in the opening round of the CIF NorCal regional tournament.
“I think we might’ve woken up a sleeping giant,” Cartagena said with a chuckle.
Pittsburg might be the next sleeping giant. Or the one being slept on. Despite losing five key seniors, the Pirates have a strong young nucleus that includes both of their top starting pitchers from 2023 — Josh Painter and Cole Leschak
“Those two guys were bulldogs all year for us,” the Pirates coach said. “Josh was more of our emotional leader on the mound, and Cole was the guy who wasn’t afraid of anyone.”
Pittsburg finished the season 20-10 and never lost more than two consecutive games at any point.
Sometimes the villain returns for a sequel. Be warned.