SAN DIEGO — Ron Layton and Dennis Pugh, former rivals on the baseball field and now rivals as the coaches of San Marcos High and Mission Bay High, still like to keep in touch.
The other day, Layton phoned Pugh to ask him about his pitching plans for Saturday's San Diego Section 2-A championship game. Layton received some good news and some bad news.
The good news, Pugh told Layton, was that San Marcos would be facing Mission Bay's No. 3 starter, sophomore left-hander Sean Rees. That, as it turned out, was the bad news.
Rees pitched a complete-game three-hitter, striking out 10, to lead Mission Bay to a 3-0 victory and its first San Diego Section 2-A championship at the University of San Diego.
Rees was in command throughout--only four batters made it as far as second base--and his performance supported the contention that Mission Bay had the deepest, if not the best, pitching staff in the county this season.
In the first two rounds of the playoffs, Mission Bay's No. 1 and 2 pitchers, Rusty Filter and Scott Vonderlieth, pitched well, too. Filter pitched a two-hitter to help the Buccaneers beat Hoover, 6-1, in the first round and Vonderlieth pitched 5 innings in Mission Bay's 6-3 semifinal victory over Escondido Thursday.
"I'd say this is the best pitching staff I've seen anyone have since I've been around," said Pugh, who is in his seventh year at Mission Bay. "We even have a couple of more kids who can throw but who just didn't get a chance to."
Rees certainly wouldn't allow it. Mixing a darting curveball with a fastball that was tailing away from right-handed hitters, Rees spent most of the day ahead in the count. He struck out five consecutive batters in one stretch.
The player with the best view of Rees' effort was Filter, his catcher Saturday. Mission Bay's No. 1 pitcher liked what he saw.
"I would have liked to have pitched and coach (Pugh) told me that if Sean got in trouble I'd be coming in," Filter said. "But his pitches were hitting all of the right spots. As we went along, I had a feeling I wasn't going to get in there."
Layton, meanwhile, had that sinking feeling. The San Marcos coach had played on a section championship team at Crawford High in 1964, and his team's biggest rival that year was Hoover, the team that Pugh played for.
"They had a hell of a team," Pugh said. "They beat us all the time."
Saturday, however, after Mission Bay scored three in the fourth inning, Layton started to get the feeling that he wasn't going to beat Pugh this time.
The Buccaneers' three runs came largely as a result of one bad hop. Vonderlieth, playing first, singled off Robert Griffin with one out and Troy Mack followed with another single to put runners at first and second.
Chris Stokes then hit a line drive toward center field. Both Vonderlieth and Mack held up, thinking the ball was going to be caught by center fielder Chuy Lozano. But Lozano knew he couldn't get to the ball so he put up his glove as if he was going to catch it in an attempt to fool the baserunners. The ball dropped and took a high hop off the outfield grass, went over Lozano's head and rolled to the wall. Vonderlieth and Mack scored and Stokes had a triple.
"I could see he wasn't going to catch it but I couldn't get the message through to my baserunners," Pugh said. "I guess they thought he was going to catch it. We got a break when it bounced over his head."
As Layton later said: "That's the way the ball bounces."