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SOUTHERN SECTION BASEBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS | DIVISION
III FINAL

Canyon Ends on an Up Note

Baseball: Leuenberger pitches a one-hitter to win the championship.

June 08, 1997|STEVE KRESAL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — When it comes to big-game pitchers, few can rival Canyon's Jeff Leuenberger and his accomplishments the past two years.

Leuenberger won his second consecutive Southern Section title game by pitching a one-hitter with 14 strikeouts in the Comanches' 4-0 victory over Lakewood Artesia in the Division III baseball final Saturday at Anaheim Stadium.

Leuenberger had pitched a two-hitter with eight strikeouts in a 5-1 victory over Upland in the Division II final last season.

"I had a little bit of butterflies," Leuenberger said, "but not as bad as last year. I felt really confident before the game. . . . My fastball was my best pitch."

Leuenberger (11-1) dominated from the start, getting the first two batters on strikes. He also struck out two in the second, third and fourth innings. He struck out the side in the fifth, got one in the sixth and two more in the seventh. He struck out each Artesia starter at least once.

Artesia's only hit came at the start of the sixth when Wiley Garcia hit a chopper in the hole that bounced into left field.

"I was upset a little bit," said Leuenberger, who will attend Long Beach State next fall. "I wanted to throw a no-hitter. I wasn't trying to pay attention to it but I was aware of it."

Leuenberger should have lost his no-hitter in the third but right fielder Mike Tomarelli made an outstanding play.

Hector Munoz, the No. 9 hitter, lined a ball toward the foul line only to have the left-handed Tomarelli race back and reach high over his head to catch it.

"My coach actually moved me in a little bit so I could throw [the runner] out at first on a grounder," Tomarelli said. "I just broke back on the ball. It was a hard catch but I'm glad I caught it."

The only trouble Leuenberger had was his own doing as he walked two and hit four. Both walks came in the third with one out but Leuenberger struck out the next two to end the threat.

"He had the same determination he had last year," Canyon Coach Mike Najera said of Leuenberger. "You could see it in his face . . . He gets stronger as the game goes on like a lot of hard throwers do and he just got zoned in and over-matched them."

Canyon catcher Tommy Duarte had the best view of Leuenberger's performance and was as impressed.

"He was throwing a lot harder because of the [big] crowd," Duarte said. "In big games you don't need to go out and talk to him. He'll clutch up. He knows what to do."

Duarte also drove in Canyon's first run with a ground out in the first that scored Jason Corapci, who reached with a bunt single and took second on a throwing error.

Canyon (25-6) scored three more times in the fourth in a rally started by Duarte, who doubled down the left-field line. Tomarelli doubled to the fence in center to drive in Duarte. Brandon Smith made it three doubles in a row when he hit one down the left-field line to score Tomarelli.

Right fielder Joe Hall's error produced the final run.

The victory ended an up and down season for Canyon, which USA Today ranked as the top team in the nation at the start of the season. Canyon struggled at times and finished second in the Century League behind Foothill, which was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.

"It turned out to be such a roller-coster ride," Najera said. "Every time a team beat us they celebrated like it was the seventh game of the World Series. We said were going to celebrate but it was going to be after the last game at the Big A hopefully."

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