YOUNTVILLE, Calif. — Woodland Hills finished second in the American Legion state playoffs here Tuesday and got nothing to show for it--except embarrassment.
American Legion State Commissioner Julio Yniguez refused to award second place to Woodland Hills after the team lost the championship game to San Mateo, 12-10, at Borman Field.
After handing San Mateo the first-place plaque--for its third state title in the past four years--Yniguez told the crowd at postgame ceremonies that the second-place team will be determined by the American Legion national headquarters in Indianapolis.
"The ruling is in Indianapolis," Yniguez told the crowd. "I have just called them, and my only instructions are to have Woodland Hills call them first thing in the morning."
If the national office upholds Yniguez's ruling, El Segundo--which Woodland Hills defeated, 6-3, in the first game Tuesday to reach the final--would be awarded second place. El Segundo was 2-2 in the tournament. The second-place team will play Aug. 20-24 in the Northwest Regional tournament in Corvallis, Ore. San Mateo will play in the Western Regional tournament Aug. 20-24 in Palo Alto, Calif.
Yniguez told Woodland Hills coaches why he didn't give them the plaque in an informal meeting after the ceremony. "You wouldn't give it back," he told them.
After the speech, Yniguez declined further comment. "I don't think I'll say anymore," he said. "It's a national matter now."
Woodland Hills' journey to the playoffs has detoured through the courtroom. After Woodland Hills won the Sixth Area playoffs, El Segundo filed a protest, charging Woodland Hills with a player eligibility violation. Legion leadership upheld the protest Aug. 5, but Woodland Hills appealed to national headquarters, then won a temporary restraining order allowing the team to play in the state tournament. The restraining order is effective until Aug. 22.
Sanford Schulhofer, one of the attorneys who filed for the temporary restraining order and whose son plays for Woodland Hills, said Yniguez's ruling violates the court's instructions not to prevent Woodland Hills from advancing in the tournament.
"We're going to pursue all available avenues," Schulhofer said. "The court has ruled that we are a full participant in this state tournament. It now appears we were deprived of our second-place award."
Yniguez's speech disturbed Schulhofer, who charged that the commissioner was trying to make Woodland Hills look bad for appealing to the court.
"There was absolutely no reason for that little speech," Schulhofer said. "All he was required to do was make the second-place presentation. He withheld that and rubbed the children's nose in the dirt."
Woodland Hills team manager Lee Hersh whipped off his cap and waved it in disgust at Yniguez after the speech.
"Very bush," Hersh said. "It was completely uncalled for."
Second baseman Ray Sabado stood in front of the dugout with his teammates, listening to Yniguez, and couldn't believe what he heard.
"There's nothing I can say," Sabado said. "It's just pitiful."
But Sabado, who said he never lost faith when it first appeared Woodland Hills would be eliminated from the state tournament, has faith his team will go to the second place regional tournament
"We won the key game and did a good job," he said. "We came up a buck short. I hope we can take it into Corvallis and all the way to the World Series in South Dakota and win it all."
Woodland Hills advanced to the final by beating El Segundo, 6-3. Pablo Suarez gave up only five hits and struck out eight after surviving a shaky start. El Segundo scored three times in the first, collecting three of its five hits.
Scott Campbell hit a two-run double in the third to cut El Segundo's lead to 3-2, and Drew Kempf's solo home run in the fourth tied the game. Woodland Hills loaded the bases and scored what proved to be the winning run when El Segundo pitcher Zakary Shinall walked Ray Sabado.
Later Tuesday, Woodland Hills was tied, 10-10, in the bottom of the seventh when Reid Neumann stroked an RBI double off pitcher Adam Schulhofer to give San Mateo (43-12) the lead for good. San Mateo added a run in the inning for the 12-10 win.
Brien Pogue hit a three-run home run for Woodland Hills in the fourth. The team made the most of six hits, scoring three times on wild pitches in the fifth inning.
San Mateo shortstop J.J. Cortes was named the tournament's most valuable player.