What an appropriate nickname it is, The Fillmore Flash. No player in the history of the Fillmore High Flashes baseball teams deserves the title more than pitcher Willie Leighton.
There have been standout performers on the mound for Fillmore before--most notably Kevin Gross, a starter with the Philadelphia Phillies, and Rick Stewart, a three-time Southern Section player of the year from 1975 through '77--but none have been more dominating.
Leighton, a senior, ran his record to 14-0 on Tuesday with a four-hit, 7-0 shutout of Aquinas and in the process led Fillmore to the 1-A Division championship game. The Flashes (22-2) play Crossroads of Santa Monica at Blair Field in Long Beach at 5 p.m. on Friday.
The 5-9 left-hander struck out nine without issuing a walk and his defense was flawless behind him. Leighton's three-game playoff totals include 41 strikeouts, one walk and only two earned runs.
Leighton is dominating without being over-powering. His fastball isn't in Gross's class and his curveball doesn't bite quite like Stewart's did, but he seems to throw each pitch wherever he wants.
"He's hitting his spots real well right now," Coach Tom Ecklund of Fillmore said. "Two of the three games he wasn't at his best, but when you have control you're usually going to do a good job."
Ditto for the rest of the team, who through the pressure of the playoffs are remaining patient at the plate and stingy in the field.
"We're playing good defense and getting timely hits," Ecklund said. "I've stressed that it's just not one person whose doing it for us."
Indeed, Leighton has a strong support group, led by Jamie Alamillo, who is batting .486 with seven home runs and 38 runs batted in. He was 3 for 4 against Aquinas.
Such numbers might have been expected from the senior third baseman, but not from Anthony Chessani, a freshman first baseman who is batting .448 and also has five saves as a relief pitcher.
"I thought we would be competitive, but we're better than I thought we'd be," said Ecklund, whose teams won three consecutive Southern Section titles from 1975-77. "We had some positions that had to come together and first base was one of them. Any time you bring a freshman up to the varsity level it's a question mark, but he's done a very solid job."
Crossroads (21-10) advanced to the championship game by defeating Tehachapi, 11-6, on Tuesday. The Roadrunners have four players batting .350 or better, led by Eric Newhouse, who is batting .444 with 3 home runs and 35 RBIs. The team's top pitcher is D. J. Sutton, who is 8-3 with a 3.66 ERA.
Ventura, which hasn't played for a Southern Section baseball championship since 1970, was knocked off one game short of a title shot by South Hills on Tuesday. Ventura, which had a team batting average well over .300, managed only seven singles against pitcher Jason Giambi, who beat the Cougars, 2-1.
David Eggert was the starting pitcher for Ventura, and he allowed only six hits in five innings but took the loss. Dean McMillin pitched two perfect innings of relief.
Ventura (21-7-1) stranded two runners in the third and sixth innings. Karl Mahler singled home Eggert in the third inning for the Cougars' only run.