Jon Willard of Laguna Hills High School pitched a seven-hitter and struck out nine as the Hawks defeated Dana Hills, 5-1, in the first round of the Southern Section 2-A baseball playoffs Friday at Dana Point.
Willard (8-3) struck out at least one batter each inning until the seventh, in which Dana Hills loaded the bases with two out but did not score.
"In terms of pitching under pressure, that was Jon's best performance of the season," said Jack Hodges, Laguna Hills coach. "Jon has been our ace all year. I thought about pulling him in the seventh, but I knew he wanted to finish."
Willard, who mixed a fastball with a change-up, had only two tough innings. The Dolphins scored a run in the third inning and had the bases loaded, but second baseman Todd Rochford took three straight fastballs for strikes to end the inning.
Dana Hills (17-9-1) had only four hits going into the seventh but loaded the bases with three singles as Willard appeared to tire. Jay Hollis, who has hit four home runs this season, represented the tying run at the plate, but all he could manage was a weak popup to catcher Aaron Arredondo as the game ended. It was Willard's seventh complete game.
"We weren't real good at the plate today," said Bob Canary, Dana Hills coach. "We swung at bad pitches and we looked at some good pitches.
"We had the bases loaded in the third inning and looked at three straight fastballs. My kid just froze at the plate. I was disappointed the way we were offensively."
Laguna Hills (17-9) had nine hits off losing pitcher Bryan Hatch (7-3), including three by first baseman Rob Milo.
Milo drove in the Hawks' first run in the second inning with a single to right and gave Willard all the runs he needed in the fourth with a two-run homer to center. It was Milo's second homer of the season.
Alan Short and Arredondo had run-scoring singles in the sixth and seventh.
"Bryan Hatch wasn't sharp today," Canary said. "He hung a curveball to Milo in the fourth inning that cost him. Give Laguna Hills the credit. They're a good team and should go far in the playoffs.
"Willard is as good as the top pitchers were in our league. He pitched a fine game. When he's around the plate, he's especially tough."
Hodges, who guided the Hawks to the 2-A title in 1984, said the opening-round victory reminded him of his team's start toward the title three years ago.
"We drew El Toro in the first round that year and played a good game against a good team," Hodges said. "Today's game felt a lot like that one. I would be nice if we got the same end results."