Kalispell Lakers head coach Ryan Malmin says if his star pitcher Joe Pistorese improves his changeup, it will “set him apart.”
Then he pauses and clarifies.
“I guess I’m talking big picture,” Malmin explains. “I’m talking about the next level.”
Malmin’s clarification is necessary because, in many ways, Pistorese has already set himself apart from the competition in Montana American Legion Baseball. Last week against conference rival Glacier Twins out of Whitefish, Pistorese threw a perfect game. In Malmin’s 13 years of coaching, he’s never been part of a perfect game.
But it shouldn’t have come as too big of a surprise. Pistorese has been inching closer toward a perfect game for a couple of years. At times, he’s literally unhittable, and as long as he can keep his walks down, perfect games aren’t out of the question.
Pistorese, a 17-year-old junior at Flathead High School, threw a no-hitter two years ago as a member of the Lakers’ A team. Last year, on the AA squad, he threw another no-hitter. When the AA season began this year, perfection was already brewing.
But when it actually happened, Pistorese said he didn’t immediately grasp the moment’s significance.
“I didn’t really get it until I looked over at coach and he was freaking out,” Pistorese said. “I didn’t understand the magnitude until a minute later. I almost can’t describe it.”
Pistorese has been playing baseball since he was 2 years old, or so his parents tell him. At the very least, he understood the concept.
“My first word was ball,” Pistorese said. “From then for the next year everything was ball. I called everything ball.”
At 6-2 and 170 pounds, Pistorese is a wiry southpaw with good movement on his fastball. His fastball’s velocity is in the mid-80s and the ball likes to dance before crossing the plate. His curveball is “very good,” Malmin said, while his changeup is improving.
If Pistorese develops his changeup to the point where he can use it confidently anywhere in the count, and become a true three-pitch hurler, Malmin believes he’ll be well positioned for post-high school baseball. That’s what will “set him apart.”
“He definitely has natural talent,” Malmin said. “And he’s got the right mentality that he’s not going to get beat on the mound. He expects – I hate to say he expects perfection – but in a sense he expects to throw a strike every pitch. He wants to challenge hitters.”
Pistorese doesn’t throw a strike every pitch, but he’s increasingly throwing far more strikes than balls. In his perfect game against Glacier, he threw 75 strikes compared to 27 balls in nine innings for an efficient pitch count of 102. He had 14 strikeouts. The Lakers won the game 8-0 to improve to 13-5.
So far this season, Pistorese is 4-1 with a 1.55 ERA through 31 2/3 innings. He has 62 strikeouts, for an exceptional ratio of two per inning. Last year, Pistorese was 9-2 in 15 starts with nine complete games and two shutouts, including his no-hitter and a one-hitter.
He finished with 156 strikeouts and 51 walks in 102 2/3 innings, and was named the only Laker named to the AA all-state team. Pistorese, who plays center fielder when he’s not pitching, is batting .327 this year with 19 RBIs, second best on the team behind Michael O’Connell’s 20.
The Lakers finished third at the Montana American Legion Baseball AA tournament last year, their best finish since winning the title in 1978, Malmin said. They finished with a 37-24 record. The title in 1978 is the only in Lakers history.
This summer, Malmin feels his team has the tools to make another run at state. But, similar to last year, the Western AA conference is stacked, making it a challenge to even get to the state tournament. The Lakers just started their league schedule.
“There’s going to be a great team staying home,” Malmin said.
The Lakers have an excellent pitching staff, anchored by Pistorese and another lefty, Mario Venturini, an 18-year-old senior at Glacier High School. O’Connell, Mat O’Brien and Alex Stanley have also given the Lakers quality innings.
Malmin said Pistorese is one of the two best pitchers he’s coached. The other, Michael Southern, was drafted by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and is playing in the minor leagues. Malmin coached Southern at Glasgow, where Malmin was head coach for eight years before taking over the job in Kalispell in 2005. He recently won his 400th career game as head coach.
Pistorese credits coaches, from his earliest playing days up through Malmin, with building his mechanics and paving the way for him to become the pitcher he is today. Malmin said “he’s very coachable,” which will help him continue to grow as a player. Pistorese expects to begin talking with colleges next year.
He might only have one more year of high school left, but he hopes his baseball career is far from over.
“I’m just going to keep doing my best and ride it out as far as I can,” Pistorese said. “We’ll see what happens, but I want to do it for a living.”
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