After flying along for months, unencumbered by such trivialities as competition, the Camarillo American Legion baseball team encountered unexpected turbulence when it reached the rarefied air of the Area 6 playoffs.
The result was a crash landing. And Coach Rich Herrera is still picking through the debris of back-to-back losses that last week eliminated his team.
Camarillo had waltzed to the District 16 title with a 19-1 record and entered postseason play with a 25-4 overall mark. With eight starters batting better than .300 and five pitchers among the district's top six, Camarillo usually took an early lead, switched to autopilot and cruised to victory.
Until the area playoffs, that is.
Claremont beat Camarillo, 13-10, with a ninth-inning rally and Studio City eliminated the District 16 champions, 8-7, in a see-saw game.
"Both teams played us innings 1 through 9," said Herrera, who led Camarillo to the area final last season, his first as coach. "We'd score and they'd come right back. In our district, teams would give up when we'd have a big inning. We'd bury people."
But Herrera doesn't want his team to bury memories of the season too quickly.
"This was a tremendous team. We tried to run a college atmosphere, just let them go out and play, and it worked because the kids wanted to work," he said. "When we had a practice, everybody was there. Last year maybe six guys would show for practice."
Herrera who was an assistant at Oxnard College last season, has a two-year Legion record of 48-15.
Good Knight: Kenny Knight, Camarillo's 5-foot, 9-inch, 175-pound second baseman, displayed power all season, hitting a triple and his 12th home run in the final loss to Studio City.
Knight, who batted .455 and scored 34 runs, had four more home runs than any other player in the district and also led the district with 46 runs batted in. Teammate Juan Cuellar had 45 RBIs.
Camarillo's John Swanson had a district-leading 47 hits and teammate Gil Valencia led the district with 41 runs scored.
Still alive and well: The county's American Legion representative succumbed earlier than expected, but another team of 16-18-year-old county players has fought its way into the Big League state divisional playoffs in Hacienda Heights.
The District 13 team, made up primarily of players from the Conejo Valley but also including players from the Oxnard area, won three games to take the section championship and is 2-1 in the division tournament.
District 13, which has outscored its opponents, 57-25, plays today in the elimination bracket against an undetermined opponent. It must win today and Friday and then sweep a doubleheader Saturday to advance to the Western Regionals.
"I think we have an excellent chance of getting to the final because of the depth of our pitching staff," Coach Dave Colacchio said.
Indeed, District 13 boasts six pitchers with earned-run averages of less than 3.00, including Kris Kaelin of Moorpark College, Dan Chergey of Thousand Oaks High, Rob Teasdale of Newbury Park, James Waldroup of Oxnard, Reyno Ortego of Hueneme and Anthony Espinoza of Rio Mesa.
Kaelin is the team's top hitter with a .522 batting average, 2 home runs and 13 RBIs. Center fielder Don Smith of Newbury Park is batting .304 with 3 home runs and 11 RBIs. Eric Greene, also of Newbury Park, is batting .360. Other top players include Mark Skeels and Tom Brozowski of Thousand Oaks.
The nose knows: Art Santana, a Santa Clara High guard with a nose for the ball, was able to smell victory even when his nose was taped to his face.
Santana, despite a broken nose, scored 19 points to lead the Saints to a 49-36 victory over the Dominguez Dons in the championship of the 32-team Ventura summer basketball tournament.
The nose was broken in a quarterfinal game against El Camino Real, and Santana missed a semifinal win over Newbury Park. But Santana, who will be a senior in the fall, scored 15 points in the first 13 minutes of the final.
Buena bummer: Nicole Ellis, a talented three-sport Buena High athlete who will be a junior in the fall, has been lost for the school year after incurring a severe ligament tear in her left knee.
Ellis, a 5-11 center, had been counted upon to help maintain Buena's powerful basketball tradition. She also runs cross-country and is the Channel League 800-meter champion, but Ellis will be lucky if she is able to recover in time for the spring track season.
Sports festival results: With one week remaining in the three-week Oxnard Sports Festival, results of several events are in.
Channel Islands won the girls' high school basketball competition; Gyler Investments won men's basketball; Bel-Air Flowers took the men's minor softball title; and Beauties and Beasts won the co-ed softball title.
Tuesday evening, Steve Reyes from Oxnard won the men's 5-K run in 15:16 and Ruth Romand took the women's race in 18:40.
Shark hunt: The Ventura-Santa Barbara Sharks, an all-star basketball team of high school-age girls, captured the Quebec, Canada, Sports Festival championship with a 72-37 drubbing of Saskatchewan.
Tami Adkins of Santa Clara High and Jannelle Thompson of Santa Barbara High played especially well for the Sharks.