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Tustin's Fonseca Can't Quite Chill Out After Section Title Victory


If you want to know how Mando Fonseca felt after winning a Southern Section baseball title Wednesday, simply climb into a washing machine, close the door and let it spin. And make sure the water temperature is nice and hot. We want you to experience wooziness like never before.

You've seen kids after they've had one too many turns on the Zipper or the Whipper or other stomach-flopping thrill rides? Fonseca, Tustin High's center fielder, wore such an expression Wednesday. He looked sick. He looked dizzy. He looked like he was about to . . . well, you know.

His teammates were on the field sharing hugs and high-fives, scurrying around like squirrels, dancing to the beat of victory. The Tillers had just defeated La Quinta, 3-2, for the Division III title. They had proved they were the best. They were on a one-way ride to Happyland.

Fonseca was happy, too--in the shade of the Anaheim Stadium dugout, his head propped against the back of the bench, eyes closed, looking like someone who had spent too much time in the sauna. The heat out in center field left him dehydrated, he said. The humidity had made him weak. But no way in the world was he going to leave the game--especially in a game like this.

"I think I had heatstroke or something out there," Fonseca said. "But I hung in there. I just wanted to play for my team."

You certainly couldn't accuse him of doing otherwise. Fonseca, a senior, had a game-leading three hits. He stole a base. He scored the Tillers' winning run. He was, as he has been all season, a leading leadoff man.

In the first inning, Fonseca hammered a double, reaching third on an error. He scored on Ronnie Hall's sacrifice fly. Tustin held that 1-0 lead through five more innings, until La Quinta scored two runs in the top of the seventh.

Fonseca says at that point he wasn't at all worried. Trailing, 2-1, in the bottom of the seventh? Ho hum. Facing La Quinta's ace Jim Livernois? Snore. The only concern Fonseca had was whether he would pass out from the heat on the way to the plate. By that time, he was as limp as a dirty old dishrag.

It didn't matter. After Justin Lloyd's double, Fonseca laid down a bunt, stole second and moved to third on a base hit by Hall, which tied the score, 2-2. With one out, Ryan Winmill bunted and Fonseca took off, speeding toward home like a bullet train. The ball rolled under Livernois' glove and Fonseca scored. The next second, he was enveloped by Tillers. He was Mando in a mob. He was hugged so hard he could barely breathe.

"I knew we were going to win this," he said, matter-of-factly. "I said to myself, 'I just know we're going to win this game.' "

Of course he did. He is Kid Confidence. He is a believe-in-your-dreams kind of guy. So are the majority of his teammates, he says. That's why they managed, after a not-so-hot start, to finish as champions. That's why, after watching La Quinta take a one-run lead, they didn't so much as quiver.

Tustin barely made the playoffs, remember. No one is going to tell this team "no can do." No one is going to tell them they can't achieve the impossible. They started the season with a first-year coach--Tim O'Donoghue. They ended the season by beating La Quinta, coached by Dave Demarest. Demarest, if you didn't already know, is to Orange County coaching what dinosaurs are to Jurassic Park. He has been around an eon or two, to say the least.

But it was O'Donoghue who was smiling Wednesday after the game. Praising his players, their poise, their smarts. Shrugging off the spotlight every time it zoomed in on him. One thing he couldn't shrug off, though, was the shower his players gave him with a 20-gallon jug of freezing cold water. O'Donoghue on Ice--that says it all.

Of course, if the Tillers were looking for someone to turn into human slush Wednesday, they might have pinned down Fonseca.

He was, after all, a team leader from the start. He was one of the main reasons the Tillers made it this far.

Besides that, he played scorchingly Wednesday. He, more than anyone else, could have used the cool down.

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