At St. John Bosco High in Bellflower, it is power hitting that has brought the national headlines. At neighboring Lakewood, it is pitching, poise and defense that have saved the day more than once.
The teams have won in different ways but each has maximized its strengths to take league titles and advance to the Southern Section 4-A baseball playoffs.
A total of 21 area baseball and 19 area softball teams from 10 divisions enter the single-elimination playoffs, which get under way today and Friday and run through the end of May. Four of the five baseball finals will be at Dodger Stadium, May 30 or May 31.
The prep Sultans of Swat at St. John Bosco (19-2), who entertain Rowland (13-6) Friday at 3:15 p.m., win with a bold approach. The team's batting average has been around .400 all season. Every starting player has a batting average of .356 or better.
With numbers like that the results have been predictable. The Braves have been involved in just two one-run games (both wins) and have won by scores of 32-2, 18-1 and 16-7.
Junior pitcher Pat Fitzsimons, cut from the team after tryouts a year ago, has benefited greatly this season from the offensive display. He has responded with a 1.66 earned-run average en route to a 12-1 record. He is expected to start Friday.
"I knew we could score runs, but I didn't think we'd hit this well as a group," said St. John Bosco Coach Ed Riley, who guided the Braves to their third Del Rey League title in seven years at the helm.
Earlier in the year, first baseman Monty McDermott drew national attention when he drove in 14 runs as St. John Bosco blasted Bosco Tech, 32-2, in a game mercifully halted after five innings by agreement of both benches. McDermott went 4 for 4, with two grand slams, a three-run homer, a two-run double and a bases-loaded walk. His RBI total was the third highest in the history of high school baseball, according to the National High School Sports Record Book, and sent the names of McDermott, Bosco and Bellflower around the United States, compliments of the Associated Press, which wrote up the game.
In contrast, nine of Lakewood's 15 Moore League victories were decided by a single run. Its only league loss was to Wilson, 3-2, last Friday.
The Lancers (19-3) host Rolling Hills (12-12) Friday afternoon at 3.
"We're one of the strongest teams in the late innings, both physically and mentally," said third-year Coach Spud O'Neil. "I have a team that can go places. We have the pitching and the best defense."
Pitcher Mike McNary set a Moore League record with 10 wins. He has an 0.81 ERA and has struck out 123 batters in 78 innings. O'Neil said he may use McNary in each of the team's playoff games.
"I put him at the top," O'Neil said of McNary. "He's very strong and doesn't get unnerved. He's got a fastball that moves, then a curve that one of the guys here clocked at 81" m.p.h.
Teammate Ron Hall has also performed well, according to O'Neil. He is 4-0, with an ERA of 1.60.
Lakewood isn't devoid of power, though. Shortstop Troy Hammell hammered a two-run home run in the first inning against Wilson. The ball cleared the left-field fence, which measures 360 feet down the line and is topped with a chain-link fence about 50 feet high. The last time anyone accomplished that feat was in 1968, former Lakewood Coach John Herbold told Lakewood Assistant Coach Rob Wigod.
Riley gives Lakewood the edge in the playoffs because of the Lancers' pitching staff, adding: "If we get by a round or two, I'll be happy. But . . . so far I've been wrong."
The two coaches, agree, however, that the single-elimination format makes it easier for a team to get hot and upset the favorites.