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Villa Park Has Enough Cards Left in Deck


Go ahead, beat Villa Park High in the Southern Section baseball playoffs. Declare the Spartans' best pitcher ineligible before a postseason pitch is thrown.

This team will return to form sooner than Silly Putty.

Villa Park is playing Canyon Country Canyon for the Division II title at 4:30 p.m. today at Edison Field because the Spartans refused to fold when their ace, Erik Averill, was declared ineligible for the playoffs after bumping an umpire late in the regular season.

Led by starting pitchers Mike Thompson and Mark Trumbo--neither of whom was in the Spartans' two-man rotation to start the season--unseeded Villa Park has made a remarkable playoff run, knocking off top-seeded Crescenta Valley, 6-0, en route to its second championship game in three years.

"It's been a total team effort," said Thompson, a senior shortstop thrust into the rotation early in the season when Chris Bragg suffered a partial tear of his left rotator cuff. "Nobody cares who gets the home run or the RBIs, we just care about getting the win."

Bouncing back from adversity is nothing new for the Spartans.

In 2000, Villa Park hoisted the Division III championship plaque at Dodger Stadium eight days after being eliminated in the quarterfinals. Villa Park was granted a reprieve after Tustin, which defeated the Spartans, 7-1, was found to have an ineligible player on its roster.

"We had the loss in the quarterfinals and we got fortunate," senior catcher Kirk McConchie said. "This year, we lose one of our star players and make it to the finals. Unbelievable."

Averill, a senior, was as valued for his experience as his statistical contributions. The Arizona State-bound left-hander picked up the victory in relief in the 2000 title game and was 6-2 with a 3.00 earned-run average and 57 strikeouts in 42 innings this season when he was suspended for the playoffs by Villa Park Principal Fran Roney. Averill also was hitting .390 with 16 runs batted in.

Realizing the potentially devastating effects of losing their standout player, the remaining team captains immediately called a players-only meeting.

"We had to get the point across that we were strong enough and had enough synergy," said Bragg, who, along with junior Steve Johns, has provided strong relief out of the bullpen during the playoffs. "We had to make the point that we could put any nine guys on that field and win the game."

Trumbo, a sophomore first baseman and occasional starter who assumed Averill's spot in the rotation, made a stellar playoff debut, striking out eight and allowing only two hits over 6 1/3 innings as Villa Park stunned Crescenta Valley in the second round.

In the quarterfinals, Trumbo broke a 5-5 tie with a two-run home run and recorded a victory in relief against Irvine Woodbridge. He pitched five-plus strong innings to pick up his third playoff win in the 5-3 semifinal victory over Santa Barbara.

"I can't express my feelings for that guy right now," McConchie said of Trumbo. "Stepping up as a sophomore and getting three wins is amazing."

Trumbo's bat may be even more impressive than his arm. He's hitting .406 with team highs in home runs (seven) and RBIs (41). Ben Hanna, a senior third baseman, is hitting a team-high .418 with five home runs and 32 RBIs.

Villa Park's sluggers will face their toughest challenge of the postseason today when they go against third-seeded Canyon's hard-throwing left-hander, Jake Coash (9-3), who pitched the final 3 2/3 innings of the Cowboys' semifinal victory over Mission Viejo.

Villa Park Coach Tom Tereschuk hasn't decided whether to start Thompson or Trumbo, but he can probably rest assured that he will get a solid outing from either. Thompson makes it no secret of his desire.

"I want the ball," said Thompson, who shut down Westlake in Villa Park's 8-5 victory in the first round. "I wouldn't want it in anyone else's hands but mine with the game on the line."

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