When the pressure rises and fans start to get riled up and make noise, that's when junior pitcher Alonzo Garcia of San Fernando High enters the calm zone.
"I just go out there, take a deep breath and when the pressure hits, I sit back and throw a strike," Garcia said.
Granada Hills Kennedy tried to get Garcia to crack Wednesday in the seventh inning. The Golden Cougars had the tying run on third base with one out. But he struck out the next two batters to preserve a 2-1 victory in the first of a two-game Valley Mission League series to decide first place.
"He's a gamer. Nothing fazes him," San Fernando Coach Armando Gomez said.
Garcia (6-1) struck out three, walked one and gave up four hits. He's 18-2 over the last two seasons. He's also only 17 years old and has a 3.8 grade-point average, and teammates trust him.
"He has so much confidence," catcher Jose Haros said.
San Fernando (15-2, 3-0 in league play) and Kennedy (6-10, 2-1) each knew runs would be hard to come by. Besides Garcia, Kennedy's Moises Ceja came in with a 3-0 record and 0.54 earned-run average. He gave up four hits and struck out five.
San Fernando was able to break through in the third inning, getting consecutive singles from Julio Arias, Haros and Ariel Torres, then pushing across two runs on a passed ball and bases-loaded walk.
Garcia didn't start well, hitting two batters and walking one in the first three innings. But he twice threw out runners at second on bunts and then started to cruise through the Golden Cougars' lineup, getting stronger each inning.
In the seventh, Kennedy finally put some pressure on with consecutive singles by Estevan Rodriguez and pinch-hitter Andrew Fernandez. After a groundout put runners at second and third, Garcia gave up his only run on a wild pitch before striking out the next two batters to end the game.
The teams play again Thursday at Kennedy.