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El Camino Real Gets Chance to Even Score : The Game: After blowing the lead in the seventh against Chatsworth in 1990 4-A title game, Conquistadores earn a rematch.

June 03, 1993|STEVE ELLING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It definitely wasn't a good sign.

Three years ago, four El Camino Real High freshmen, promoted from the junior varsity, watched the City Section 4-A Division baseball final from the first base dugout at Dodger Stadium. Their teammates seemed to have the game in hand when all you-know-what broke loose in the bottom of the seventh inning.

El Camino Real's one-run lead evaporated as Chatsworth scored twice to win, 3-2. The lead wasn't all that disappeared.

"What do I remember from that game?" said El Camino Real pitcher Kevin Szymanski, one of the fab four frosh. "We were winning in the seventh, and all of the security guards climbed on top of our dugout to keep the fans off the field."

Not for long, though.

"When they started to score," Szymanski said, referring to Chatsworth, "the guards all moved over to their dugout."

There may have been a changing of the guard in the stands, but not on the field. West Valley League rivals Chatsworth (22-7) and El Camino Real (23-2) again will play for the 4-A title, meeting tonight at 7:30 at Dodger Stadium.

Parallels between the 1990 and 1993 teams are many. El Camino Real, which has never won the City title, was a huge favorite three years ago because the team was loaded with many players from the Woodland Hills West team that won the American Legion World Series title the previous summer.

Chatsworth, led by rookie Coach Tom Meusborn, wasn't nearly as experienced. Gone were mashers Joel Wolfe, Rich Aude and Derek Wallace, all of whom are now highly regarded minor leaguers.

Ditto this time around. El Camino Real is loaded with seniors, including the four players who were promoted for the 1990 final: Szymanski and starters Dan Cey, Mike Smith and Justin Balser.

Upstart Chatsworth, remarkably, wasn't expected to contend until next year: Only two regulars are seniors.

Wednesday morning, a former Chatsworth player called Meusborn to offer congratulations.

"We were talking about how it definitely is a similar situation," Meusborn said. "Maybe we can work the magic one more time."

El Camino Real, which lost in the 4-A final in 1984 in its only other championship appearance, is seeded first and was the second-seeded team in 1990.

The biggest task for Chatsworth might be scoring. El Camino Real pitchers Szymanski and Randy Wolf haven't given up a run in three playoff games. During the regular season, Szymanski (9-1) defeated Chatsworth and tonight's starting pitcher Harry Kenoi, 6-0. It was one of three El Camino Real victories in as many games against Chatsworth.

El Camino Real outscored Chatsworth, 23-5, in the three victories to secure the league title. Some folks think things have changed since then, however.

"They caught us at a bad time," Chatsworth shortstop Bryan LaCour said, referring to Chatsworth's back-to-back losses to the Conquistadores in mid-April. "We'd just lost two games to Kennedy and we were down, way down."

Over the past two weeks, the Chancellor production has been way up. The Chancellors overwhelmed Taft, 17-1, in the semifinals Tuesday and have outscored the opposition, 31-2, in three playoff games. El Camino Real, which entered postseason play with a batting average of .372, has scored 16 runs in three games and managed only 14 hits over that stretch.

Junior catcher Brandon Murphy is seven for 11 in the playoffs and has driven in nine runs.

Kenoi, a sophomore right-hander, has been unflappable all season. Kenoi (6-foot-1, 215 pounds) pitched 10 scoreless innings in a midseason game against Kennedy, the eventual North Valley League champion. Pressure doesn't seem to faze Kenoi, who is only 15 years old.

"He's nails out there," said LaCour, a junior. "He's a stud. I can't wait to see him as a senior."

LaCour is the lone Chatsworth player to have experienced the 4-A final on the field--he served as a bat boy in 1983, when the Chancellors defeated Sylmar. He watched from the stands in 1990, when his brother Matt was playing for Chatsworth. His level of appreciation for the magnitude of the event has grown appreciably since the latter visit.

"I didn't even know what was going on," LaCour said. "I didn't know what it meant. I was like, 'Dad, let's get out of here.' "

Szymanski said that moments after the 1990 loss--which ended when light-hitting Chatsworth shortstop Tommy Lee drove in the winning run on a suicide squeeze bunt--several El Camino Real starters broke into tears in the dugout. Chatsworth hadn't even hit the ball out of the infield.

First baseman Ryan McGuire drop-kicked the ball into the stands. Outfielder Jeff Marks ran off the field with his hand over his face to cover the tears. Losing pitcher Pat Treend threw a bat onto a rooftop after the team bus returned to school.

The freshmen, none of whom played, learned a lesson.

"That's still in our minds," Szymanski said. "I prayed all week that we'd get to play Chatsworth again. We know that if we don't win this game, then the whole season's worthless."

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