Steve Surico's fastball has been the subject of much attention--and the focus of several radar guns--around Tustin High School this season. More than anything else, it's the reason Surico is believed by many to have a bright future in baseball.
But in Friday's Southern Section 3-A quarterfinal game against Western, Surico threw one fastball too many. It was one of few mistakes he made, but it was one Western's Mark Tramberg made him pay the ultimate price for.
Tramberg, behind 0-2 on the count, drove a Surico fastball over the left-center-field fence for a three-run homer in the top of the first inning. Three runs were plenty for Pioneer pitcher David Tellers as Western advanced to the semifinals with a 3-1 win in front of an estimated crowd of 700.
Tramberg's home run was one of only three hits Surico allowed. By the time it was over, Surico had 13 strikeouts, including two of Tramberg, who saw almost all curveballs in his next two at-bats.
"Oh, I know," Tramberg said, shaking his head. "He sat me down."
But in the first, Tramberg got to circle the bases before sitting down, and that, combined with some big defensive plays by Western, was enough to bring an end to Tustin's season.
Center fielder Shawn Frattone threw two Tustin runners out at the plate. Catcher Scott Pawloski made a diving catch of a difficult pop-up behind the plate. Shortstop Paul Boucher went deep in the hole to backhand a ground ball and throw out Monty Roberts. All that enabled Tellers to give up seven hits, Western (25-4) to commit three errors, and have the damage total only one unearned run.
"Tellers pitched a great ballgame, like everybody thought he would," Western Coach Dave Bowman said. "He really gets up for that kind of situation. He knew that Surico was coming in with a lot of attention and publicity."
Tellers came into the game with a 10-1 record, identical to that of Surico's. But the similarities ended there. This pitching matchup was one of Surico's power vs. Tellers' finesse. Tellers used curveballs and off-speed pitches to keep the Tustin hitters off-balance, and let his teammates do the rest.
Besides Surico's pitch to Tramberg, two of the biggest throws to the plate came from Frattone. Frattone ended both the third and sixth innings by throwing out Tustin runners who were trying to score from second on base hits to shallow center. Both throws were on the fly to Pawloski, who applied the tags.
"You've gotta love those throws," Bowman said. "In two years, he's probably thrown out six guys like that."
The Tillers (20-5) didn't exactly conduct a clinic in baserunning skills. When you have 13 hitters reach base and only one score, you know something's going wrong.
"I think we've been better baserunners than every opponent we've faced this year," Tustin Coach Vince Brown said. "Today, we weren't."
Tustin's only run came in the fourth when--after two Western errors--Mike Anderson singled to drive in Chris Floth. The comeback the Tillers kept waiting for never came.
"I believed it was going to happen," Brown said. "I don't think there was a player on our team who didn't believe we were going to come back. But we took ourselves out of some innings. I think we should have been back even with them by the seventh."
Bowman has his pitching plans for the remainder of the playoffs all mapped out.
"It'll be (Rich) Lodding on Tuesday, then we'll have Tellers ready for the stadium . . . hopefully," he said.
Isn't Bowman getting a little ahead of himself? There is a semifinal game to be played Tuesday.
Said Bowman: "We felt whoever got by this game would have a good chance."