It's been 23 years since Western High School's baseball team played for a Southern Section championship, but the Pioneers will be vying for the 3-A division title Saturday after Tuesday's 7-1 victory over El Segundo in the semifinals.
Rich Lodding pitched a one-hitter, and teammates Mark Tranberg and Dave Tellers hit consecutive home runs at Glover Stadium in Anaheim to move the Pioneers into the title game for the first time since former Angel and Dodger Andy Messersmith was a prep star.
"These guys deserve to go to Dodger Stadium," said Dave Bowman, Western's fourth-year coach. "They've worked very hard and dedicated themselves to winning. I'm very proud of them."
Western (26-4) will play Rio Mesa (24-4) at 4:30 Saturday. Rio Mesa advanced with an 11-1 victory over Lompoc in the other semifinal. Tellers, who has won 28 games in his three-year career, will start for Western.
Lodding (12-2) allowed only a single by center fielder Robert Markle in the first inning. Western shortstop Paul Boucher went far to his left in an effort to make the play, but the ball skidded under his glove for a clean single.
Lodding struck out six, walked five and retired 10 consecutive batters at one point to earn the third one-hitter of his career. El Segundo's only run was unearned when Lodding failed to handle a throw from Western first baseman David Jacob in the first inning, and the Eagles' Willy Parsons scored on the play.
"That pitcher shut us down and did a good job," said John Stevenson, El Segundo coach. "He got an early lead, threw strikes and they made the plays behind him."
Western opened a 4-1 lead in the second inning, capitalizing on two walks, two errors and consecutive doubles by right fielder Frank Miller and second baseman Dave Brown. Tellers scored the Pioneers' fifth run in the third on another El Segundo error, and the Pioneers sealed the victory in the fifth.
Tranberg hit his fifth home run of the season, belting a 3-0 fastball high over the left-field fence for a 6-1 lead. Tellers followed by hitting relief pitcher Heath Jones' 1-0 pitch over the left-center-field fence to finish the scoring.
El Segundo hardly played like a school that has won five Southern Section titles and more than 500 games in Stevenson's 27-year career. The Eagles committed three errors and had only one scoring opportunity after the first inning.
"We made mistakes in this game that we haven't made all season," Stevenson said. "We were nervous, but hey, they were nervous, too."
The Pioneers committed three errors in the first inning, but Lodding kept his composure. He ended the Eagles' best scoring chance in the sixth inning by striking out two and then inducing Jose Sanchez to fly out to right after walking two.
"I knew if we got out of the first inning by allowing only one run, we'd be OK," Bowman said. "I looked at their starter (Zak Shinall) and knew we were going to score some runs. He had pitched a lot of innings in the playoffs."
Opponents have found that scoring against the Pioneers is another story. Western has allowed only five runs in four playoff victories and has played 20 games this season in which it has allowed two runs or fewer.