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Longshots Now Have Their Shots at Titles

El Dorado is one of six teams that didn't win leagues but will vie for Southern Section championships today at Dodger Stadium

June 05, 2004|Dan Arritt | Times Staff Writer

From the first crack of the bat this baseball season, teams from the Century and Moore leagues figured to play in one of four Southern Section championship baseball games today at Dodger Stadium.

Just not Placentia El Dorado or Long Beach Wilson.

But that's who's here. Two teams that didn't create many waves during the regular season have led a surge of underdogs in the playoffs.

And they won't be alone.

El Dorado, the third-place team from the Century League, will play Simi Valley in the Division II final at 4:30 p.m. Simi Valley, like El Dorado, had to start the playoffs in the wild-card round after finishing third in the Marmonte League.

Long Beach Wilson, third in the Moore League, will square off against Riverside Arlington in the Division I final at 7:30 p.m. Arlington came into the playoffs on a three-game losing streak that cost it the Ivy League title.

Two other teams that didn't win their leagues but are playing for section titles are Anaheim Katella and Rancho Santa Margarita Tesoro.

Katella, which plays top-seeded and defending champion Encino Crespi in the Division III final at 1 p.m., finished second in the Empire League, although its turnaround actually began at the end of last season, when it finished 8-18.

Logistics have played a key part in Katella's postseason success. The Knights have played three home games at massive Boysen Park, where their game is tailor-made for a field that measures 370 feet down the lines.

"It's bigger than Angel Stadium," said Katella Coach Carlos Ayala, in his first season. "You've really got to hit it hard to get it out."

Tesoro, the second-place team from the Pacific Coast League will play league champion Corona del Mar in the Division IV final at 10 a.m. Tesoro, in its first year with a senior class, knocked off top-seeded and defending champion Westminster La Quinta, 4-1, in a semifinal Tuesday.

Though it may seem strange to have so many longshots reach the finals, veteran Southland coaches aren't too surprised.

"Baseball is unlike any other sport," said El Dorado Coach Steve Gullotti, in his 23rd season at the school. That's why Major League Baseball plays a seven-game series in the postseason, he added.

"A bad bounce here or there ... a flare down the line that scores two runs....Anything can happen in one game."

It helps when you've already faced some of the Southland's most talented teams during league play.

El Dorado, though one of Orange County's stronger programs, went 1-5 this spring against fellow Century League teams Villa Park and Anaheim Canyon, two of the top 10 teams in the Southland most of the season. The Golden Hawks (22-9) finished tied for second and were forced to open the playoffs as the No. 3 team in the wild-card round.

El Dorado has jelled in recent weeks, winning 12 in a row, including five playoff games by a combined score of 35-8.

"League play prepared us well for the playoffs," said Gullotti, who led the Golden Hawks to section titles in 1999 and 2001. "There are some tough teams in that league, that's no secret."

Long Beach Wilson, which has not won a section title since 1950, was outscored by top-seeded Lakewood, 17-3, in two Moore League meetings and against second-place Long Beach Millikan, 12-2.

Coaches are also quick to identify hot pitching as the key ingredient for playoff success.

El Dorado has a unique rotation led by senior left-handers Zach Pettikas (9-4, 2.01 earned-run average), who is scheduled to start today's game, and Eric McCory (6-2, 1.75). Pettikas has handcuffed opponents in the postseason, throwing a one-hitter to beat Whittier, 11-0, in a first-round game and allowing three hits and no earned runs in a 2-1, eight-inning victory May 28 against Norco.

Simi Valley has been equally supported by a dominant pitching staff, especially the relief performances of Dylan Gaughen.

Gaughen, a senior right-hander who recently returned to the mound after November shoulder surgery, struck out 14 in 7 1/3 innings of scoreless relief in a quarterfinal against West Torrance, helping the Pioneers stay alive until they won it in the 14th inning, 5-4. Gaughen also struck out nine consecutive batters in relief in a 5-3 wild-card victory over Atascadero.

Gaughen hit a grand slam in the bottom of the sixth inning Tuesday to beat Corona Santiago, 8-7, in a semifinal.


Southern Section Baseball Championships


* Division IV -- Rancho Santa Margarita Tesoro (20-10) vs. Corona del Mar (24-5), 10 a.m.

These Pacific Coast League teams will play for the fourth time this season. Corona del Mar has won 16 consecutive games and 22 of its last 23. The Sea Kings have won all three meetings against Tesoro by a combined score of 36-9. Tesoro upset top-seeded Westminster La Quinta in a semifinal Tuesday, its 10th consecutive victory.

* Division III -- Anaheim Katella (17-13) vs. Encino Crespi (27-4), 1 p.m.

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