With 20 consecutive victories, La Puente Bishop Amat has thrust itself into consideration as the No. 1 baseball team in Southern California.
Even more impressive, the Lancers have pulled off their feat without a true ace. Eight pitchers have earned victories this season, with 11 players getting the chance to pitch.
Their pitching-by-committee strategy was on display this week at the Hard 9 National Classic. On Thursday night, the Lancers (20-2) defeated Anaheim Esperanza, 12-1, in the championship game at Cal State Fullerton.
Pitching coach Chris Beck concedes that winning 20 games in a row without a dominant pitcher is rare.
"I would be lying if I wasn't surprised," he said. "These guys have impressed me with how hard they've worked. I told them in the fall, 'If you don't care who's going to get credit, we're going to be OK.'"
What's scary is that the Lancers are starting to use standout infielder Rio Ruiz on the mound. He struck out three consecutive batters in the fourth inning with a 92-mph fastball. He finished with seven strikeouts in four shutout innings. Starter Daniel Zamora struck out five in three innings.
Bishop Amat avenged one of its two defeats with the victory over Esperanza (14-8), which beat the Lancers, 7-5, on March 5.
Bishop Amat scored three runs in the first, taking advantage of two errors and a run-scoring single by Bernardo Zavala. Adam Alcantara blasted a two-run homer over the left-field fence in the fourth. Jay Anderson added a two-run triple in the fifth.
The Lancers get no time to celebrate. They face a tough test Monday night from La Verne Bonita in the RJ's Legacy charity game at Mount San Antonio College.
It's not as if the Lancers have played a cream-puff schedule. They've faced Palm Desert, Orange Lutheran and Chatsworth, among others.
In the consolation final, Mission Hills Alemany defeated Chatsworth, 11-8. Junior outfielder Corey Sims went four for four, including two triples, raising his season batting average to .544.
"There's nobody swinging the bat like him," Alemany Coach Randy Thompson said.