The opening game of the Sunset League season between Fountain Valley and Ocean View High Schools on Friday turned into such a messy event that it posed a threat to the league's reputation for good baseball.
Fountain Valley (8-2) emerged the winner, 9-4, by virtue of 14 hits. But nobody claimed it was pretty, and some would have liked to disown Friday's game altogether.
"This was the sloppiest league ball game I've been involved in," Fountain Valley Coach Tom DeKraii said. "This wasn't Sunset League baseball at all."
One thing was for sure, it was an adventure in defense--which looked like a dying art for a while. Frisky throws repeatedly sailed past infielders' gloves. Meanwhile in the outfield, seemingly playable balls fell to earth.
Each team committed four errors, allowing unearned runs--five of them--to waltz home in droves, followed by some earned ones.
But DeKraii declared it a psychological victory for Baron pitcher Bob Sharpnack (4-0). One of the top professional prospects in Orange County, Sharpnack was forced to cut short his last start Saturday after just one pitch, due to a sore arm at the Loara Tournament championship.
DeKraii said the Barons' "catalyst" injured a biceps muscle near his elbow while using a palm-sized grip-strengthening device before the Loara game.
Against Ocean View (6-2), Sharpnack appeared to be throwing gingerly in the early innings.
The third batter he faced, Seahawk star Dave Tinkle, promptly clubbed a homer over the center-field fence, 390 feet in the distance.
Sharpnack, who was sufficiently overpowering while recording 18 strikeouts in one game this season, didn't fan a Seahawk until the third inning Friday, when Tom Smythe and Mike Abasacal succumbed for the last two outs. In his 6 innings, he allowed six hits, walked three and struck out six. DeKraii said Sharpnack was totally recovered and "feeling fantastic," but still pitched at about 80% of his usual effectiveness due to the layoff.
"We were worried he wouldn't be able to cut loose, and he was definitely holding back in the early innings," DeKraii said. "He was ahead (in the count) of 90% of the batters he faced in his first three starts. Today he was only ahead of about 40% of them. But we're happy he got the psychological stuff out of the way."
The Seahawks took advantage of the fumble-fingered Baron defense in the top of the third inning to take a brief 4-1 lead. Blaine DeBrouwer led off the inning with a walk and advanced when Roger Ogawa's bunt produced a throwing error by Sharpnack.
Tinkle's second hit of the day, a single, scored DeBrouwer. A single by Phil Chess, and two subsequent errors by Fountain Valley first baseman Jim Wayne helped Ogawa and Tinkle to score.
After Sharpnack came up with the two strikeouts to escape the inning, DeKraii said he had to resist the temptation to give his team a good chewing-out.
"That was my first reaction," he said. "But I realized they committed those errors because of early season jitters. I would have just perpetuated it, and the whole thing could have caved in on us."
Instead, the Barons regained their poise with a reassuring visit to the plate. The entire lineup batted in the bottom of the third, the biggest half-inning of the game when five runs scored.
With one out, Jim Doyle reached base on a fielding error by second baseman John Savidan. Don Snowden followed up with a two-run homer off pitcher Craig Anderson.
Terry Reichert, who led the Barons with three hits, singled, Sharpnack doubled and Jim Reach laid down the perfect bunt along the third-base line to score Reichert. With two outs, the rally gained new life when Abasacal, the Seahawk center fielder, dropped Wayne's fly ball, enabling two runners to score for a 6-4 Fountain Valley lead.