The Santa Ana High School baseball team traveled to Lompoc Friday in hopes of finally giving the Braves their just desserts for eliminating it from last year's Southern Section 3-A semifinals.
But the Saints sensed that something had gone awry when the long-awaited rematch turned out to be shorter and less exciting than the 200-mile bus ride to the quarterfinal.
Lompoc, a veteran of six semifinal and five championship games in 17 years, was not rattled by Santa Ana's intentions, and made short work of the Saints with a 3-0 victory.
This outcome represented the first time the Saints had been shut out this season. Their swift and prolific offense, which averaged nearly eight runs a game all year, was the key to their Century League title.
Santa Ana (22-5) had seven hits against three Brave pitchers, but none for extra bases, usually a Saint specialty. And only sophomore third baseman John Hefler had more than one hit.
On the other hand, the Brave offense wasn't itself, either. Dan Bodary, Lompoc coach, almost disapproves of home runs in principle, and consequently his team hits them very rarely.
Although the Braves (22-5) play in what Bill Ross, Saint coach, described as an "itty-bitty" park, the school's individual home run-record is only six--set Friday when first baseman Pat Thompson popped a modest one over the right field fence in the second inning.
But Bodary is flexible. He didn't flinch or chew anybody out after two balls happened to clear the fence Friday.
"It is a treat," he said, but hastened to add with a properly serious expression, "We do not teach homers, though. We teach them to get the ball in play and run like hell."
Santa Ana pitcher John Schilling (10-2) would not have objected if the Braves had restricted themselves to such an approach.
Schilling, who lost at Lompoc last year despite allowing only three hits, gave up two homers in one game for the first time this season. Nonetheless, it was a respectable six-hit complete game, if not exactly what he might have wished.
"I like him," Bodary said, "I'd take him on my team right now. He reminds me of (California Angel pitcher) Tommy John. He's cute and crafty, and always around the strike zone, but never in the same place.
"I warned my kids he'd lull them to sleep and then pop one (hard strike) on them."
But Schilling couldn't seem to get his Sominex pitches to take full effect Friday. The Saints, who tend to score a lot in the later innings, hadn't done anything by the time Lompoc's Dale Craig clubbed a long homer to left-center in the fourth inning for a 2-0 lead.
Part of Santa Ana's apparent passivity at the plate reflected Lompoc's wealth of high-caliber pitching. Brave starter Paul Boomersbach (3-0), who went 5 innings and allowed only three hits, is neither Lompoc's best, not even its second-best pitcher.
The ace, Ben Gonzales had already thrown 14 innings in the past week, and was only used Friday as a stopper in the last two innings. The No. 2 pitcher, Ron Osborne, beat the Saints last year but sat out Friday's game because of a recent hospitalization, a sore arm, and a death in his family.
The Saints had their most promising opportunity in the top of the fifth when Shaun Sterling hit a line drive to right field, and Boomerbach walked Brian Flores. Jaime Franco loaded the bases on a hard grounder past first base.
But Armando Olivares' stinging hit was stopped by shortstop Damon Scarborough, who managed to begin a fine double play that ended the inning.
"Just a few inches to the left or right, and it would have been 2-2, and that would have changed the whole complexion of the game," Ross said. "Then, who knows what could have happened?"
The Braves scored for the last time in the fifth after Larry Jacinto singled through the left side of the infield, and pinch runner John Ortega advanced on a ground out. He scored on Scarborough's long double.
The Saints, who stranded seven base runners to Lompoc's three, were unable to bring in either Hector Olivares, Hefler or Schilling in the sixth against Gonzales, who struck out two batters in the inning.
The seventh proved another exercise in futility for Santa Ana against the power pitcher. Sterling reached on an error and Flores singled with no one out, but Gonzales got Franco on a sacrifice bunt, Armando Olivares on a line drive to the first baseman, and Richard Tellez on a strikeout.