The journey that took the Fontana High School baseball team from a third-place finish in the Citrus Belt League, and a 5-5 record in its last 10 regular-season games at that, to tonight's Southern Section 4-A baseball final at Dodger Stadium may have had its origins at the Coliseum--two years ago.
Steve Hernandez, the Fontana baseball coach, was in attendance that night in December of 1984. He certainly didn't realize it at the time, but having the Steeler football team play Riverside Poly in the Big Five Conference championship game meant a lot to the future of his baseball team. But over the last four games--and earlier with the loss of No. 1 pitcher Brian Parsons to a shoulder injury--he has seen exactly how much it meant.
"These guys are as playoff ready as anybody," Hernandez said. "They have played in the big arena before and dealt with the pressure and the extra media."
The statistics bear him out, with two of the six baseball starters who also appeared in that football game playing a crucial role: Junior third baseman Greg Colbrunn and senior pitcher Vinnie Mares. Colbrunn, an All-Southern Section pick as a linebacker last season, is batting .413 while Mares picked up the pitching when Parsons went out and has gone 10-3 with a 1.84 earned-run average.
He has thrown all but two innings in the Steelers' four playoff games, with an 0.54 ERA in that time. And he will start tonight in the 7:30 finale of the four-game program.
First baseman Charlie Solano, who is also 3-1 with a 2.45 ERA as a relief pitcher, has been the hottest hitter for Fontana (19-7). He batted .278 in the regular season, but since then is hitting .350 with two game-winning RBIs, including one against Lakewood, when he also had three hits and the save.
Anaheim Esperanza, meanwhile, is 24-3-1, including a semifinal win over Simi Valley, the country's top-ranked team, according to Collegiate Baseball.
In the 3-A final, scheduled for 4:30, defending champion Rio Mesa of Oxnard (24-4) meets Western of Anaheim (25-4).
Rio Mesa, the Channel League champion, returns six starters from 1985 and has outscored its four playoff opponents, 37-3. Going into the semifinals, seven starters were hitting over .300, with 6-foot, 4-inch first baseman Sean Luft leading the way with a .421 average and eight home runs.
Artesia (21-7) will start eight seniors against Saugus (20-7) in the 2-A title game at 1 p.m. Gunnar Seedborg (12-3) is the scheduled starting pitcher for the Pioneers, who also feature two players, third baseman Shane May and catcher Todd Guggiana, who have gone 8 for 16 in the playoffs. Saugus, with the pitching of Dennis Moran and Kent Gustaveson, has allowed only seven runs and 15 hits in its last four games and is making its first appearance in the finals.
For the second year in a row and the third since 1983, the 1-A final, at 10 a.m., will be an all-Montview League affair.
League champion Baldwin Park (19-5), which won the title in 1982, will start senior left-hander Paul Potvin (9-1) against hot-hitting Gladstone of Covina (19-7-1), the third-place entry from the Montview League.