The second time around may be just dandy for love, but finishing in second place for the fourth time in City baseball competition is getting a little old for Palisades High School.
The Dolphins have played in a final at Dodger Stadium four times, and each time a championship has eluded them. The latest loss came last week as Granada Hills Kennedy edged Palisades, 4-3, to win the 4-A title.
In past championship games, the Dolphins were beaten by Cleveland High on a no-hitter by Brett Saberhagen (now a star pitcher for the Kansas City Royals) in the 1982 4-A final and lost three-run decisions to Westchester in 1983 and to Venice in 1985 in 3-A.
If a tie is like kissing your sister, taking second place may be about as much fun as shaking hands with the school principal. But the 1989 Palisades team still has a lot to savor from this season.
There wouldn't have been a 1989 4-A title game if the Los Angeles teachers strike hadn't been settled and 4-A coaches hadn't therefore called off their boycott of postseason play and decided to have a condensed playoff schedule.
Palisades and Kennedy were forced to play three playoff games in three days and a fourth within a week.
Palisades defeated Polytechnic, 5-3, and Monroe, 5-2, and scored two runs in the final inning to edge top-seeded Chatsworth, 9-8, in the semifinals. Palisades Coach Russ Howard called the Chatsworth game "one of the most exciting I've ever been involved with."
This Palisades team may have been the best in school history. The Dolphins, a senior-laden team, finished with a 25-5 record (15-1 in the Western League) after marks of 16-13 in 1987 and 17-12 in 1988.
The players may have learned some valuable lessons from their tumultuous season.
Howard, in his third year as coach, does not think the strike and the coaches boycott hampered his team.
"The bottom line was that we did not execute when we had to, we did not make the fielding plays when we had to," Howard said.
"I think everything worked out perfectly. The coaches honored the picket line, and the kids got to play. I'm not going to use playing three days in a row as an excuse."
Though he and his players were "deeply disappointed" about losing the title game, "there is one thing to understand: What got us through was how far we've come both in playing ability and, especially, as a team and growing up as young adults. At this time last year, they weren't really a team of young adults."
Though last year's team had a good record and made the playoffs, he said, the players "just did not show maturity or experience (because) their playing didn't seem to come together.
"They're all great kids, but this year they were super. They matured so much in the last year that it made a huge difference."
His consolation for losing the title game, he said, has been the satisfaction of working with his players, especially 14 seniors, and with their parents.
"Whatever improvements have gone on in baseball can be directly attributed to" the players' parents, he said. "This is the greatest parents group I've ever worked with."
Since all but one regular, junior center fielder John Myrow, will graduate this June, Howard has his work cut out for next year.
Among those graduating are the following starters: shortstop Larry Israel, first baseman Barry Levine, second baseman Kevin Fisher, third baseman Garry Sandorf, left fielder Refugio Alvarez, catcher Jason Beckerman and pitching aces Mario Cobian and Mike Codron. When Cobian and Codron weren't on the mound, they played right field.
Though Cobian and Codron won't be back, pitching may be the Dolphins' greatest strength next year.
Sophomore Alan Bruns, the star pitcher for a junior varsity team that finished second to University in the Western League, will move up to the varsity, as will sophomore Tim Tapia, who was ineligible this season.
Two juniors who pitched for the varsity this year also will return: Doug Sutton and David Price. Sutton had a complete-game win and pitched the last couple of innings of a no-hit game in which Alvarez, who also did some pitching, started.
Howard said next year's Dolphins will have "some untested talent, but we're going to be competitive," though not as competitive as this year's crew. "I had seniors who had been with me through three years, (and) experience is so vital."
"The whole league will be going through a big turnover, so it will be kind of exciting from one standpoint. I don't know who the favorite is going to be, but it should be wide open."