Spanish Springs senior catcher Josh Prizina is comfortable three feet behind home plate, but he’s at the forefront of the Cougars’ regional title push
It’s the first official day of practice for the Spanish Springs baseball team, but spring is hardly in the air.
It’s cold. Snow piles from a historic winter persist in the parking lot. And per the stingy Northern Nevada climate constitution, the wind is both relentless and piercing.
Matt Ortiz is preparing to lead the initial practice with his new title: Head coach. He was promoted in the offseason when Ben Hofmann stepped down.
Ortiz doesn’t spout clichéd coach-isms about constantly improving, making the routine play, or even the most tired of them all, taking it day to day. Nope. He opts not to beat around the bush. He splits the shrubbery in two halves.
“Galena and Reno,” he said. “That’s the obstacle. We’re just going to continue building that confidence that we can be successful against those guys.”
Those guys are the class of the 4A North. The last five Northern Nevada large-school regional tournaments have ended with Reno hoisting the trophy. Galena earned a first-row seat for the last two, watching from the opposing dugout. The Grizzlies finished third the previous three seasons.
There are any number of reasons Oritz and the Cougars could supplant the Huskies and Grizzlies this year. The group is experienced after last year’s run to the consolation semifinals in the regional tournament. The pitching staff boasts potential to be among the region’s finest. And the lineup features a unique versatility.
None are more eminent than the presence of senior three-year starting catcher Josh Prizina.
“We wouldn’t have the success we’re having without the senior back there,” Ortiz said while the team ducked from a deluge during a spring break practice in the school’s indoor batting cages. “He’s making an impact on the game far and away more than he even realizes. They look to him in the dugout, on the field.”
They look to him because he provides a calm, not quite as a gentle giant, but close. Standing 6-5 and pushing 200 pounds, his presence is one part physical, one part sage.
He will earn his sixth varsity letter this spring. Three times he was an all-region basketball player for Kyle Penney. His sophomore season on the diamond, he was named second team all region (Ortiz still believes he was snubbed from the first team). He retaliated last spring, earning first-team all-region accolades.
Prizina was on last year’s basketball team that was upset at home in the regional quarterfinals by Galena. He too vividly remembers getting upset by Bishop Manogue in February’s semifinals, despite a perfect 16-0 regular season. He caught last year’s regional consolation semifinal loss to Galena – one win shy of a state berth.
So many near misses. And while he recalls those defeats “all the time,” and “they’ve provided life lessons,” they don’t drive him.
That chore is left to his two brothers. He is the middle of three. His older brother, Jake, pitched and hooped at Spanish Springs and is now a sophomore at Seattle University. Last month, he was named the WAC (Western Athletic Conference) Pitcher of the Week. His younger brother, Joey, has followed the Prizina path. His winters are spent on the hardwood and springs spent attempting to hit a round ball with a round bat.
“It’s just my brothers, actually,” Josh said when asked what motivates him. “They always push me to get better. We always had front-yard competitions and stuff. Always beating each other up to see who’s the best. I feel that just made me get better.”
While the age advantage only worked in his favor half the time for brotherly bouts, he could always rely on size.
“Growing up I was bigger than Jake, but he always had that competitive edge,” Prizina said. “He’d always take everything serious.”
Being the biggest doesn’t directly translate to being the loudest. Not for Prizina, at least. Even as a senior, he picks his spots when to verbalize his thoughts with the rest of the team. His biggest pet peeve isn’t when someone fails to execute a bunt or misreads the number of fingers he puts down, surprising him with a breaking pitch in the dirt.
The tussles with his brother have taught him the value of drive.
“I don’t like when people half (attempt) stuff,” he said. “I’m always on them, like, ‘come on. Even if you don’t want to be here, just pretend and act like you want to get better.’”
Said Ortiz: “His leadership is not measurable. He works hard in practice. He doesn’t have an attitude … He’s not super vocal. He’s kind of a class clown sometimes, when he needs to be. Which is great. You have to keep it light. There are times when I can’t keep it light.”
Ortiz credits Prizina for jokes. In turn, Prizina credits senior second baseman Marlin Brucato as the laughter source, particularly during mound visits.
“I’ll just go out there and make them laugh and stuff,” he said. “Marlin always comes in and tells a joke and we all start busting up.”
As his sterling prep career rounds its final corner, Prizina is in a comfortable spot. He admits it’s “bittersweet,” but regional title in May or not, he will get another shot at winning a championship. Prizina is committed to play at Nevada, where he will re-join 2016 Spanish Springs grad, Ryan Anderson, who is in the middle of his freshman season pitching for the Wolf Pack.
The two speak often.
Ortiz, whose name is plastered throughout Nevada’s record books after catching for the Wolf Pack from 1998-2000, later joining the St. Louis Cardinals organization, once again bisected the bush when contemplating Prizina’s future.
“He has far more potential than (I did),” he said. “His ceiling is much higher, including even after college. Because he has that ability.
“He’s going to get his shot.”