Stake Western High School pitcher David Tellers to a three-run lead and the Pioneers will likely win the ballgame. Tellers has won 28 in his three-year career.
Western was ahead by three going into the fifth inning Saturday in its Southern Section 3-A championship game against Rio Mesa in Dodger Stadium.
Tellers had allowed only one hit and seemingly was in control against the defending champion Spartans. But Rio Mesa rallied for three runs in the fifth to tie and went on to gain a 5-3 victory to spoil Western's first appearance in a championship game in 23 years.
The title game was a long time coming for the Pioneers, and it may be a long time trying to forget this loss. Consider:
- When Rio Mesa scored its runs in the fifth, only one of its four hits went out of the infield. Said Pioneer Coach Dave Bowman: "It seemed like every ball they hit had eyes."
- The unlikely hero for Rio Mesa was No. 9 hitter Mike Runge. He hit a two-run single in the fifth and drove in the winning run with a double in the seventh inning to give the Spartans their fourth title in the past seven years.
- Pioneer pitchers had allowed opponents two runs or less in each of 20 games this season, but Tellers allowed five runs in three innings.
- Rio Mesa made enough throwing errors (two) and baserunning blunders to cause Coach Pat Machado to say: "With the mistakes we made, we shouldn't have won."
But the Spartans, who finished 25-4, will add the 3-A trophy to last year's title and 1-A championships in 1980 and 1981. Western came up empty in its second title try after losing to Long Beach Poly, 4-2, for the 4-A championship in 1963.
"Maybe it wasn't meant to be," Bowman said. "We had a great year, and despite this loss, we still won more games (26) than any other team in the CIF (Southern Section).
"The killer was the two infield hits and that bad-hop single in the fifth. I really felt it was our game after we went ahead, 3-0."
The Pioneers, who finished at 26-5, scored an unearned run in the first inning after two Rio Mesa throwing errors and extended their lead to 3-0 in the third inning.
Pioneer center fielder Shaun Frattone opened the third with an infield single and scored when teammate David Brown lined a triple over right fielder Darren Romano's head. Brown scored when Paul Boucher flied to shallow center and Spartan outfielder Phil White threw to third base instead of the plate.
Tellers, mixing a good fastball with a curveball that became more effective in the later innings, allowed only one hit until the fifth inning.
The critical play of the inning was a ground ball, which Pioneer third baseman David Jacobs couldn't field, that was scored a hit. It looked more like a double-play opportunity. Instead, the Spartans had two on and no outs.
After a sacrifice, Runge ripped a single up the middle that scored Pena and Gamboa, and Frattone's throw sailed over Pioneer catcher Scott Pawloski's head. Runge took second on the play and scored on White's bad-hop single that first baseman Dan Price couldn't handle.
"I thought if we could keep them under three runs, we'd win the game," Bowman said.
But the score then was 3-3 and the momentum had clearly shifted into Rio Mesa's dugout. Two innings later, Runge delivered the knockout punch--a double to the left-field corner that scored Romano--and the Spartans were on their way to another championship.
"I felt confident with a 3-0 lead," Tellers said. "I wasn't tired and my curveball started working in the later innings. It's just one of those games you can't explain."