For the first time in his resounding athletic career, Zech Zinicola was rejected.
It wasn't because of his 91-mph fastball. Or his unhittable slider. It was because of Southern Section bylaws.
After three years at Riverside Arlington, Zinicola transferred to San Bernardino Cajon, a school that would have eliminated his daily 60-mile round trip and helped him to conserve time that was in short supply because his mother had recently given birth.
But the Southern Section office slammed his hardship transfer as if it were a hanging curve. After enrolling at Cajon, Zinicola learned he would not be eligible to play because his transfer was not deemed an "unavoidable, unforeseeable and uncorrectable act," a Southern Section spokesman said.
Zinicola had proven himself numerous times on the field, going 7-0 with a 1.86 earned-run average as a junior and signing with Arizona State, but getting beat by bylaws was a new one.
"It was a pain," Zinicola said. "It seemed like the right deal to go to Cajon, down the street, with my college [decision] in place. Three years of driving back and forth, 30 miles each way, had taken a toll on us. My mom was having a baby and I just wanted to play my senior year somewhere fun."
After attending Cajon for a couple of months, Zinicola returned to Arlington, where he had immediate athletic eligibility but not immediate credibility with his old teammates, or so he assumed.
"I thought it might be a little uneasy," Zinicola said. "I thought I'd have to come in and be serious and go 120% just to prove I'm here and I'll stay and I'll be behind you guys."
If no-hitters are an indication, Zinicola was plenty serious. Zinicola, 6 feet 1 and 220 pounds, pitched a no-hitter in his first game, striking out eight and walking two in a 10-0 victory over Santa Ana.
Zinicola's return has been a boon for Arlington (3-0), ranked No. 15 in the Southland by The Times. The defending Southern Section Division III champion lost pitcher Jo Jo Reyes to Riverside Poly in another off-season transfer that seemingly hobbled the Lions.
"We had lost both kids," Arlington Coach Gary Rungo said. "Zech was good friends with a lot of guys on the team and we started hearing through the grapevine he was coming back. When he returned to us around Thanksgiving, we felt fortunate."
Zinicola's return has created an intriguing backdrop in the Ivy League. Arlington and Poly, ranked No. 14 by The Times, play twice this season.
"We're working hard to prove Jo Jo wasn't the only guy that made us what we were last year," Zinicola said.
It's understandable Camarillo would struggle without Delmon Young, a possible top-five pick in the June amateur draft who is out with a severely sprained ankle.
But five hits against Brentwood and only three hits against Torrance Bishop Montgomery?
Camarillo (1-3) has plummeted without its star pitcher-outfielder, who is not expected to return until next week. The Scorpions, 30-4 last season, lost last week's highly anticipated game against Chatsworth, 11-4, and were defeated by Brentwood and Bishop Montgomery.
"If we had Delmon on the mound, things would be different," Coach Scott Cline said. "Just give us a little while and we'll be all right."
The toughest schedule in the region, if not the state, belongs to Santa Ana Mater Dei, which will play five games in a one-week span against teams in The Times' top 25.
The Monarchs, ranked No. 4, will play Riverside Poly in a doubleheader Tuesday, No. 1 Westminster La Quinta on Thursday, No. 10 La Puente Bishop Amat in a Serra League opener Saturday and No. 12 Santa Margarita in another league game next Tuesday.
The Monarchs will also play Arlington on a date to be determined for the championship of the Newport Elks tournament, which was rained out Saturday.
"That's the way we like it," Coach Burt Call said. "I knew we'd be taking a chance a little bit with the schedule, but it's always been my philosophy to play the best."
It's not known which team Encino Crespi will open up against next year, but the result is already a given if Trevor Plouffe is on the mound.
It's an understatement to say Plouffe, a junior right-hander, excels in opening-day games.
As a freshman, he threw a no-hitter against Lawndale Leuzinger, striking out four in his first career start. As a sophomore, he had 11 strikeouts in a victory over Pasadena Muir.
This season, Plouffe struck out nine and gave up one hit in a 10-0 victory over Oak Park. He followed it up with a 10-strikeout performance in a 5-2 victory over Manhattan Beach Mira Costa.
As far as losing streaks go, it wasn't close to the first-year woes of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In fact, Mission Viejo Tesoro's losing streak in its first varsity season lasted all of one game.
The Titans lost to Riverside Poly, 14-6, but then defeated Santa Fe Springs St. Paul, 4-3. For good measure, the Titans beat Mission Viejo Trabuco Hills in their next game, 5-4.
Tesoro (2-3), in its second year, does not have any seniors on its team and relies mainly on sophomores.
"I really thought there was going to be a learning curve, that it was going to take a while," Coach Rick Brail said. "I'm excited about our start, but we're still young and we still have some improving to do. We have a long way to go before we're able to compete in our league."