Jacob Pizzo has a remarkable four-year varsity high school baseball career and a memory to match.
The Bullard senior right-hander can recount virtually every pitch of his first start as a freshman against Tulare Western on Feb. 23, 2013:
“Their first hitter grounds out to second. Their second hitter, Ross Dodds, doubles off me and I’m thinking, ‘This is a little different,’ I remember clearly, ‘This is big time.’ … In the fifth inning, my third baseman (Devin Quiroz) bails me out of a bases-loaded jam. … And I remember striking out that last guy looking on a 3-2 curve.”
Knights win 4-1 at home in the Coca Cola Classic.
“I pitched well and that meant a lot to me because I had made three errors in right field in our first two games.”
Then yet another memory, only dreadful.
Will I ever play again?
Bullard pitcher Jacob Pizzo wondered after injuring elbow a year ago
It was a fifth-inning curveball at Memorial as a junior on April 24, 2015: “Something popped in my elbow.”
He recalls thinking three things at that moment on the mound: “One, and obviously the most dramatic: ‘Will I ever play again?’; two, ‘Who’s going to finish the game?’; and, three, I was (orally) committed to Cal State Fullerton and I’m thinking, ‘Wow, am I going to play there?’
“Well, it turns out I’m not. And that’s a whole different story.”
First, the good side of it.
Pizzo’s worst fears – a torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) – turned out to be only a nerve that popped out of place. It did not require surgery; but rather, three months of rehabilitation.
But the injury did remove for the season a pitcher who had already won 16 games in three years, according to section historian Bob Barnett, to say nothing of the initial “agonizing” period of the fear of the unknown, the speculation of the elbow damage. Pizzo did return shortly after the injury to play as a designated hitter.
“My Dad (Mike Pizzo) and I were even joking that I would learn to throw left-handed for my senior year. I didn’t know if that would have been the case, but I would have definitely tried.”
It didn’t come to that, but more bad news did.
Once able to pitch again, Pizzo participated in an October showcase camp at Chukchansi Park – a common audition-type stage for college coaches.
Cal State Fullerton, a perennial national power and four-time NCAA champion, was represented.
“I pitched,” Pizzo says, “but I was not at full strength. Fullerton coaches said I didn’t look good enough and they pulled my (non-binding) scholarship (offer).
“That was my motivation to get strong as possible, prove them wrong and everybody else wrong.”
Three weeks ago, the University of San Francisco offered Pizzo a scholarship.
Two weeks ago, he accepted.
“Having that offer was amazing,” says the 6-foot-3, 195-pounder. “It just shows I can pitch at the next level.”
Pitching at the high school level for him was never in question – even as a freshman, a rarity in Central Section Division I.
Pizzo – who laughingly clears a misconception by saying he is not one ounce Italian – arrived at Bullard from a Fresno Unified Intermediate championship team at St. Anthony’s, and it didn’t take long for Knights coach Chad Thornhill to make the call.
“He came in as a freshman thrower with huge confidence,” Thornhill says. “He came in feeling good about what he brought to the table.”
Pizzo lost a no-hitter on Zach Montelongo’s two-strike, two-out double in the bottom of the seventh, gave up only that hit in 6 2/3 innings and improved to 10-1 with an 0.85 earned-run average in an 8-1 win at Sanger on Tuesday as Bullard – ranked fourth in the section – improved to 18-7 overall while clinching outright the County/Metro Athletic Conference title with three regular-season games remaining.
26 Pizzo’s career victories in a four-year varsity career after winning 8-1 Tuesday at Sanger
“What Jake has done now is refine his craft, becoming a more polished pitcher,” Thornhill says. “Now he really understands how to set up hitters with three pitches. He’s progressed physically, but the great part has been watching him grow with mental maturity.”
Bullard had won the section D-I title in 2012, the year before Pizzo came aboard.
But for all of his 26 career wins, in addition to .300 hitting, the Knights haven’t been seeded higher than fifth or made it out of the quarterfinals since.
Hence, the one obvious goal remaining: “A ring, that’s the goal, absolutely.”
If the section seeding were today, Bullard would likely land a No. 4 behind Tri-River Athletic Conference powers Buchanan, Clovis North and Clovis, who have won the past three D-I championships and are ranked Nos. 1, 5 and 7 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports. And Buchanan remains ranked No. 4 nationally by MaxPreps.
“We’re not the most talented team in the Valley,” Pizzo says, “but I know we’re the hardest working. We’ve grinded the whole season and I think we have a good shot.”
Section finals schedule shift – The two-day, six-game section baseball finals will return to Visalia’s Rawhide Ballpark for a third straight year, but in an unusual Monday-Tuesday format May 30-31 because of a scheduling conflict with that venue’s Advanced Class-A team.
Section association commissioner Jeff Cardoza says an extension beyond this year hasn’t been contracted with the city of Visalia, but “realistically” the finals will return there in 2017.
Cardoza says section administration is examining other options, including Fresno State and Chukchansi Park, but neither can guarantee dates and both are also “cost prohibitive.”
Fresno State will, however, host for the first time the section softball finals, May 27-28.
State basketball honors – Four basketball players from Fresno County were named All-State Underclass by Cal-Hi Sports, featuring Clovis West’s Madison Campbell, who made first-team Freshmen.
Golden Eagles teammates Megan Anderson and Danae Marquez made second-team Juniors. And Immanuel’s Darrin Person Jr. was named second-team Juniors among the boys.
The Central Section had no other representation. Cal-Hi has yet to announce its All-State overall team.