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High school baseball final shows the power of relying on three pitchers

Eric Sondheimer
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Huntington Beach baseball players, coach euphoric over winning Southern Section Division 1 championship

Hit by a pie, soaked by cold water from an ice chest, Huntington Beach Coach Benji Medure kept letting his players turn his bearded face into an experiment on what it would take to make his smile disappear.

Nothing worked late Saturday night, the euphoria wouldn't go away after a 3-1 victory over Newhall Hart in the Southern Section Division 1 championship baseball game at San Manuel Stadium.

"It's unbelievably special," Medure said. "It's not an easy thing to do, and obviously, in 107 years, we haven't done it. So we just made history, and these kids know it and they're pumped to be a part of it."

The end of a more than three-month baseball journey this season brought forth a new lesson for teams seeking the championship at the highest level. And that is to have not just one or two really good pitchers, but three.

Years ago, teams relied on one outstanding player to pitch twice in a week during the playoffs and come close to throwing the 10 maximum innings. Then it became important to make sure the No. 2 pitcher was really good. But now, the three-pitcher mantra is coming into play.

Huntington Beach won the Division 1 title without using its ace, Hagen Danner, in the semifinals or final. He was injured. But its No. 4 pitcher, Mitchell Kovary, threw a shutout in the semifinals. And its No. 2 pitcher, Noah Davis, struck out 10 and gave up four hits in Saturday's final. The Oilers had another pitcher, closer Logan Pouelsen, ready if needed.

"It's insane the pitchers we have on this team," Davis said. "Every single guy on our staff, I think, could be the ace on any other team."

Hart also made it to the final by relying on three pitchers in the playoffs — starters Jack Ralston and Paul Richan and closer Sean Ward.

In the City Section playoffs, Division 1 champion Woodland Hills El Camino Real turned to its No. 3 pitcher, Matt Malconian, who had two saves and a win in the four playoff games.

Maybe the Trinity League was giving everyone a peek into the future by playing three league games a week this season, forcing teams to come up with three quality pitchers to be successful.

"I think a lot of teams will be going to that model," San Juan Capistrano Junipero Serra Coach Brett Kay said. "It's good for high school sports. It's developing more pitchers."

What a final day of high school sports it was on Saturday.

In Clovis at the state track and field finals, Michael Norman of Vista Murrieta ran the 400 meters in a stunning 45.19 seconds, tying the national high school record. He's just a junior — who one day is going to find himself on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

In Irvine, Rachel Garcia of Palmdale Highland struck out 24 batters in 12 shutout innings of the Division 4 softball final game before having to come out in the 13th inning because of an injury. Her team lost to Torrance, 1-0, but her individual courage won't be forgotten.

Summer is now upon us, with basketball tournaments, football-passing competitions, all-star camps and competitions every weekend. It would be nice if parents were to remind their kids to take a few days of vacation, because rest is important, and being at your best when it really counts is how championships are won.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

Twitter: LATSondheimer

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