By his own admission, Rio Mesa High's Darren Romano is nothing more than a singles and doubles hitter.
"Singles usually. A lot more singles," he said with a smile Saturday in the visitors' clubhouse at Dodger Stadium.
So when Romano collected his first triple of the season, he couldn't have done it at a more opportune time.
With the score tied in the top of the seventh inning, Romano tripled up the alley in right-center. Moments later, he came home with the winning run as the Spartans defeated Western of Anaheim, 5-3, in the Southern Section 3-A championship baseball game.
After trailing at one point, 3-0, Rio Mesa rallied to win its second consecutive 3-A championship, becoming the first school since 1981 to repeat as champions. The Spartans won the 1-A title in 1980 and 1981.
"That's as hard as I've swung all year," said Romano, the Spartans' right fielder who came into the game with 18 hits in 54 at-bats.
Romano jumped on David Tellers' first pitch of the inning, driving it just beyond the reach of a diving Shaun Frattone.
Earlier in the game, Frattone, the center fielder, had made a sensational catch in the alley in left to rob Rio Mesa's Mike Runge.
That play raced through Romano's mind on his last-inning drive.
"I thought, 'Oh my God, he's going to get it,' " he said.
But Frattone didn't and on the next pitch, Runge doubled to left to score Romano. Art Espinoza then bunted back to Tellers, who threw the ball into left field.
Runge scored on the Pioneers' third error of the game. Western (26-5) got a runner on base in the bottom of the seventh, but Phil Maquinalez induced David Brown to ground out to first baseman Sean Luft for the final out.
Maquinalez (10-2) went the last three innings for Rio Mesa (25-4), allowing only two hits. Tellers, who came out after Espinoza's bunt, finished his threeyear varsity career with a 28-5 record. The loss Saturday was his second in 13 decisions this season.
Brown began the game for Western by singling off of Rio Mesa's Scott Bush. After Paul Boucher sacrificed, Mark Tranberg hit a deep grounder to third, which Runge threw away, sending Brown to third. Brown continued home when Romano, backing up the play, threw the ball over catcher Rick Pena's head.
Western got two more runs in the third on Frattone's single, Brown's triple and Boucher's sacrifice fly.
Rio Mesa, which didn't get a hit until the fourth inning, got three runs in the fifth. Runge had a two-run single and scored the tying run on Phil White's bad-hop single to first.
Pena had started the inning for the Spartans with an infield single. Todd Gamboa then collected a bad-hop single by third baseman David Jacobs. After Romano's sacrifice bunt, Runge ripped a shot up the middle.
That hit, Runge said, was just as important as his game-winner.
"That got us on the board," Runge said. "It got rid of the goose egg."
One out later, White got rid of Western's lead.
White's grounder appeared to be a routine out, but at the last second, the ball took a wicked hop, hitting first baseman Dan Price in the forehead.
"The killer was those two infield hits and the bad hop in the fifth," Western Coach Dave Bowman said. "I really felt it was our game after we took the 3-0 lead."
Rio Mesa played anything but its game in the early innings.
Besides the two errors in the first inning, Rio Mesa committed several other mental blunders.
On Boucher's sacrifice fly in the third inning, White, the center fielder, threw to third instead of home.
After White collected the Spartans' first hit leading off the fourth, a double, he made a base-running mistake. On Heath DeLaTorre's grounder to short, White took off for third and was thrown out easily.
"With the mistakes we made," Rio Mesa Coach Pat Machado said, "we shouldn't have won.
"To come from behind, that's sweet. First, we had the pressure to repeat. Then, we get down 3-0 to a quality pitcher. The win says a lot about the kids."
Once his team took the lead, Machado knew knew he had his third Southern Section title in his six-year career at Rio Mesa.
"It's really tough to get two runs off Maquinalez in that situation," Machado said.
"For me to get the last out," Maquinalez said, "it's a great honor. It's something I'll always remember."
Bowman will always remember the year too, especially the 3-0 lead that got away.
"Despite the loss," he said, "it was a great year. No other team in the CIF won as many games as us."
A fact that hardly seemed to bother Rio Mesa.