Superstition and baseball go together like soda pop and potato chips. At least they do if you play for Buena High.
The Bulldogs have played 18 consecutive games without a loss and have clinched their first Channel League title since 1981, winning each time after lunching on junk food. Make that junk food lite. Eating anything more than a bag of chips, the Bulldogs believe, would be as disastrous as hanging a curveball with the bases loaded.
"Early in the season the guys were loading up on carbohydrates during lunch, but they said they felt sluggish," Coach Stan Hedegard said. "They were falling asleep on bus rides to games.
"Now they try to stay away from lunch. Cola and chips aren't nutritious but they seem to be doing the job."
Buena cleans its plate when the chips are down, however, which may better explain the team's 10-0-1 league record and 15-2-2 overall mark. The team earlier had a school-record 11-game winning streak and recently has won several games in the late innings.
"Somehow we find a way to win," said Hedegard, whose team finished fourth in the league last season. "We'd have the bases loaded and one out last year and hit a line drive right at somebody for a double play. This year it's a seeing-eye double that clears the bases."
Other league coaches have noticed. Said Ventura's Dan Smith, whose team is battling Dos Pueblos and Rio Mesa for the two remaining playoff berths: "Buena has been good and Buena has been lucky. They could have easily lost three of their last four."
Of course, the Bulldogs would rather be lucky and good anytime.
Buena also has been excellent in spots, beginning with the pitcher's mound. Left-hander Matt Anderson and right-hander Jason Isaacs give Hedegard a high-velocity rotation. Anderson, a senior, is 6-1 with a 1.49 earned-run average and 66 strikeouts in 42 1/3 innings. Isaacs, a junior, is 7-0 with a 1.28 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 43 innings.
"Anderson throws in the high 80s. He's had problems with control of his curveball but when he gets that pitch over, he's as effective as any kid around," Hedegard said. "Isaacs also has good velocity on the fastball but his best pitch is a knuckleball that really moves."
Smith and Rio Mesa's Rich Duran, among other coaches, consider Anderson the league's premier pitcher. He also may be the premier all-around player. Anderson, who accepted a scholarship to Cal State Northridge two weeks ago, plays left field when not pitching and leads the county with a .528 batting average.
Three-year starter Tommy Lunsford and three-sport standout Ty Hewitt are other Bulldogs who have been swinging hot bats.
Lunsford, a senior shortstop, is batting .386 and is within range of his third consecutive .400-plus season. His 86 career runs batted are only four shy of the school record. Hewitt, who was the Times All-County kicker during football season and set a school record for goals in a season in soccer, is batting .392 in his first season as the starting center fielder.
Catcher Ryan Webster (.391), first baseman Steve Albiston (.366) and right-handed pitcher Sam Arroyo (3-0, three saves) round out a talented supporting cast.
The Bulldogs have made up for their lack of lunches by feasting on opponents. Only a tie with Ventura last week has marred Buena's league record. Hedegard already is looking ahead to the playoffs.
"Buena has never got past the second round of the playoffs," he said. "At the beginning of the year we set a goal to advance further than any Buena team. Now we've got the chance."
There is a spirited race between Ventura (10-9, 6-3-2), Rio Mesa (11-8-1, 7-3-1) and Dos Pueblos (8-9, 7-4) for remaining two Southern Section 4-A Division playoff berths from the Channel League.
After a rocky start brought on by the graduation of all nine starters, Ventura has posted a 7-3-2 record since Coach Dan Smith moved Harvey Jones from right field to shortstop. Jones, a 6-foot-4 senior, also was moved from third to leadoff in the batting order and is hitting .428.
"The way Harvey has made the move to short has been the big thing," said Smith, who made several personnel moves after a 3-6 start. "Five years ago I might have said, 'These are they guys I'm going with . . . ' Not this year. I'm not afraid to make moves."
Chris Bargsten, who has 23 RBIs and leads the county with seven home runs, was moved from catcher to right field and from leadoff to cleanup. Anthony Romero, who bats third, switched from second base to catcher and Tim Cass, who bats second, moved from shortstop to third base.
About the same time, Gary Myers began giving Ventura solid pitching. Myers, a senior left-hander, has won three decisions in a row after starting 1-5.
Pitching has hurt defending league champion Rio Mesa, which plays host to Ventura on Friday in a key matchup. Senior left-hander Anthony Espinoza was the only returner and he has missed all season with a rotator cuff injury.
Senior Jon Rust (5-2) has picked up the slack lately, winning three in a row. "Jon has been real consistent," Coach Rich Duran said, "but otherwise it's been a rotation by committee."
Rio Mesa, like Ventura, can match opponents run for run, however. Power-hitting sophomore Dmitri Young, a Times All-County choice last season in the outfield, has moved to third base without a drop in offensive production despite having been intentionally walked seven times.
Junior second baseman David Frazier, a "tough, aggressive player," according to Duran, has had only two hitless games. Steve Soliz, a returning all-league catcher, bats behind Young and has raised his batting average in recent games.