For three innings, the scene on the El Toro High School field was unexpectedly quiet, considering that two of the best hitting teams in the South Coast League were playing for a share of first place.
It wasn't until the fourth inning when El Toro's hitting combined with Dana Hills' uneven fielding disrupted the silence.
From then on, the Chargers (7-2, 15-8) demonstrated a greater mastery of the bat and glove, and rode a wave of 11 hits and five Dolphin errors to a 10-3 victory Friday.
So quiet were the first three innings that even El Toro mascot Barney the Blue Bull, distant relative of Babe the Blue Ox, temporarily gave up watching the game. Instead, he borrowed a make-up mirror from a girl in the stands and entertained himself by attempting to powder his fuzzy nose.
The Chargers were initially somewhat baffled by the off-speed pitching of Dolphin left-hander Barry Tovey (1-3). The first sign that El Toro had finally figured Tovey out came in the bottom of the fourth.
Chad Fouts led off with a single, and .450 hitter Doug Barron made it two. Then Dana Hills (5-4) made its second error of the game, loading the bases when third baseman Bill Lasher made an errant throw to first on Brian Young's grounder.
Designated hitter Chris Dernovich drove in Fouts with a single to left field, and pinch hitter Cory Crews made it 2-0 with a single up the middle, allowing Barron to score.
The Chargers emerged from the fourth inning with a 4-0 lead after Mike Gonzales' sacrifice fly scored Young, and Dernovich fled home as the Dolphins made a bad relay throw to third base.
Catcher Frank Appice, who has scored the most runs of any county player, opened the bottom of the fifth in the same vein.
His home run over the center field fence suggested a Dolphin pitching change. Tovey turned over the mound to reliever Tim Strauch, who later had equal difficulty against the Chargers and their .340 team batting average.
"We're just three guys who are excellent (offensively), and six guys named Joe," said El Toro Coach Dan DeLeon in something of an understatement. "We're actually better on defense than offense."
The El Toro defense did perform superbly, particularly shortstop Barron. He made a diving catch in the first inning to rob Jim Reily of a hit, and fielded a Tony Ferguson ball deep in the pocket and made a long, strong throw for the out in the fifth.
Charger starter Richard Faulks, who had neither struck out or walked anyone in five innings, issued his first base on balls to Reily with one out in the sixth.
He was tired. Dana Hills' David Kirkpatrick, one of Orange County's most formidable power hitters, took advantage of Faulks' fatigue, hitting a two-run homer over the left field fence.
It was 5-2 in the middle of the fifth inning. Charger partisans were remembering the last time the teams met, when the Dolphins threatened to come back from a 9-1 deficit, scoring five runs in the seventh inning as the fog rolled in over Dana Point.
El Toro, however, scrapped the Dolphin insurgency plans with their own five-run half-inning. It featured a little of everything--two errors, three walks, three hits, and, at length, three outs.
But the entire Charger order, plus two, had batted before the Dolphins could extricate themselves from the sixth inning. Dernovich and Gonzales picked up their second RBIs of the game as the score ballooned to 10-2.
"We played our traditional game," said Dolphin Coach Bob Canary. "Our defense hurt us. We give the other team four or five outs (per inning), and no matter who's on the mound, it's going to be tough. You can't expect to win that way.
"I was saying before the game that it might take us 10 runs to win, but it would have taken 11 today."
Strangely, the only Charger starter who was hitless was Scott Shockey. The county's RBI-leader and fifth-leading hitter at .509 entering this week, Shockey hit back to the mound for outs three times and walked once.
Dolphin John Gunderson hit a solo homer off reliever Scott Perkins in the seventh to end the scoring. It was the 21st team homer of the year for the Dolphins, who nonetheless slipped from second to fourth place in the league race with three games left.
In other South Coast League action:
Irvine 7, Capistrano Valley 5--The host Vaqueros rallied from a 3-1 deficit with five runs in the fifth inning and went on to defeat the Cougars. The big hit in the fifth was Jim Murphy's two-run single.
On the day, Steve Habermehil was 3 for 3 with an RBI and Buddy Mundt went 2 for 2 with a double and an RBI. Mike Henigan (4-1) went 5 to get the win and Steve Lipton pitched the final 1 to earn his fourth save. Brett August went the distance and took the loss for Capistrano Valley.
Mission Viejo 11, Laguna Hills 4--The host Diablos pounded Laguna Hills for 13 hits and went on to an easy win that gave them sole possession of third place in league.
Laguna Hills (4-4) got four runs off winning pitcher Bob Brucato (7-0) in the top of the first, but after that, it was all Mission Viejo. The Diablos got six runs on six hits in the bottom of the first and scored three more in the second for a 9-3 lead.
At the plate, Brucato went 2 for 4 with two RBIs and Mark Preston went 2 for 4 with a homer and two RBIs.