Had the coaches wanted it that way, Tuesday's non-league baseball game between Hart High and Canyon could have been billed as a showdown between two bitter Santa Clarita Valley rivals.
Instead, Hart's Frank Sanchez and Canyon's Wally Hammond used the game at Hart as nothing more than a final tuneup for their league openers later this week.
Hart, using four pitchers, defeated the Cowboys, 4-1, but Hammond wasn't concerned.
"It all starts for us on Friday," Hammond said, referring to the Cowboys' first league game against Burroughs of Ridgecrest.
What did start Tuesday was a new career for Canyon's Joe Zacharia--a career as a catcher.
Zacharia, the regular center fielder, started his first game behind the plate, replacing Matt Summers, who is out for the season with a shoulder injury. Canyon pitcher Ken Sollom proved to be a bit much for Zacharia to handle in his first outing.
"He's missing a few of the mechanics," Hammond said, "but Sollom's velocity is hard to handle. Overall, Zacharia did a fine job."
With two outs in the first inning, Sollom struck out Kevin Gannon with what should have been the final pitch of the inning. But the third strike got past Zacharia for a passed ball, sending Gannon to first base. David Lee came to the plate, and on the second pitch he lined the ball off a tree 375 feet from the plate in left-center field for a two-run homer, his first of the season.
Hart's four-man pitching parade confused even Sanchez, who didn't know who the winning pitcher was. It was right-hander Shawn Bowen, who relieved starter Tim Nedin to open the second inning.
"We tried to pitch everyone," Sanchez said. "We're trying to get ready for the league."
What was clear to Sanchez was the hitting of Gannon, who started for the first time in place of Jim Bonds, who is injured. Gannon blasted a two-run homer to left field in the sixth inning.
Canyon scored its only run in the bottom of the sixth on a home run by Ray Palagyi.
Defensively, Hart's Dean Fausett put on a great performance at third base. The 5-9 junior handled six chances flawlessly, including a great catch on a line drive and a running catch of a foul pop fly.
"They played great defense," Hammond said. "But, so did we."
Canyon allowed only three hits and committed just one error.
Hart, which opens league play Friday against Burroughs of Burbank, will rely heavily this year on Nedin, a southpaw, Sanchez said. He struck out two batters in his one inning Tuesday.
Hammond hopes that Sollom--who struck out four but also walked four in three innings-- will become the ace of the Canyon staff, but was not impressed with his final non-league performance.
"He should be one of the most dominant pitchers in the league," Hammond said. "But mentally, he gets himself in trouble."