Just when it appeared Simi Valley High's roller-coaster baseball season would derail Friday afternoon, the Pioneers found an unexpected hero in the bullpen.
Sophomore Rich Langford, who was involved in a mysterious auto accident earlier in the week, pitched 4 innings of scoreless relief and Simi Valley rallied from a five-run deficit to beat Edison, 7-6, in a Southern Section 4-A playoff game at Simi Valley.
In Tuesday's second round, Simi Valley (20-6) plays El Dorado, a 13-2 winner Friday over Culver City. Edison, which placed third in the Sunset League, finished the season at 16-12.
Langford (3-1), who replaced ineffective starter Scott Sharts, entered the game with one out in the third inning, the score tied, 5-5, and runners on first and second. Langford walked the bases loaded and a fielder's choice put Edison ahead, 6-5.
Langford then retired 13 of the final 14 batters, allowing just one hit. In the fifth, Simi Valley scored the tying and winning runs on a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly by Joe Gallegos.
"Rich was superb," Simi Valley Coach Mike Scyphers said. "To put a sophomore in a position like that and have him respond is tremendous."
Said Langford: "I didn't think I'd be used. I was hurt two days ago on my car door. When they told me to warm up in the second inning I got nervous."
The soft-spoken Langford didn't hesitate to explain his pitching performance, but he wasn't as informative about the injury to his pitching arm and the infamous car door.
Said Langford: "I don't really want to go into that, it's kind of embarrassing."
Said Scyphers: "Most kids play better when something's bothering them."
But Langford's vehicular mishap couldn't have been worse than the plight in which the Pioneers found themselves in the second. Sharts, who entered the game with a 9-3 record, allowed the first six batters to reach base in the five-run inning.
Edison's Bernie Colacchio led off with a double to left and Jon Martin walked to put runners on first and second. While facing Terrence Tewell, Sharts uncorked a wild pitch that bounced off the backstop and came back toward catcher Tim Laker, who threw to third. Laker's throw beat Colacchio, but the ball bounced off the glove of third baseman Darren Lloyd.
Tewell then hit a slow ground ball to Lloyd, whose throw eluded first baseman Scott Cunningham to load the bases.
Mike Guccione, Edison's starting pitcher, cleared the bases with a three-run double off the right-field fence. John Bammer followed with a home run to right and Simi Valley was suddenly behind, 5-0.
"I knew we would chip away at their lead," Scyphers said, "But I didn't think we'd roll a five right there in the bottom of the second."
But the Pioneers, who set a single-season school record for home runs with 34, responded with five runs on six hits off Guccione.
After singles by Marcus Lockwood and Don Giannone, Lloyd slugged a three-run home run over the left-field fence to cut the lead to 5-3. It was the fourth home run of the season for the switch-hitting Lloyd, but his first as a right-handed hitter.
"I was really nervous out there in the second inning," Lloyd said. "I've seen our team trail 5-0 and come back to win. I've also seen us ahead by five runs and lose."
After Lloyd's home run, Darin Furlong doubled and Darren Aurand walked. Gallegos hit a ground-rule double, scoring Furlong, to make it 5-4.
With runners on second and third, Laker hit a grounder to shortstop Joe Perci, who made a nice backhand stop and threw to second base for the force at second.
Unfortunately, there was no runner on first when the play started and Aurand trotted home from third with the tying run.