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Saugus, Hart, Valencia score Southern Section baseball playoff wins

Eric Sondheimer
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Foothill League's Saugus, Hart, Valencia all beat Mission League foes in Southern Section baseball playoffs

The Santa Clarita Valley, home to Magic Mountain and filled with residents who love cowboy boots, skateboarding, surfing and sports of any kind, might want to hold a parade this weekend to celebrate the historic accomplishment pulled off Thursday by three of its high school baseball teams.

Saugus, Hart and Valencia, public schools from the Foothill League, swept three private-school opponents from the powerful Mission League — Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, Mission Hills Alemany and Los Angeles Loyola — in the opening round of the Southern Section Division 1 playoffs. And each victory came via a shutout.

"That's a pretty good day," Hart Coach Jim Ozella said.

"It means we have some pretty good pitchers in our league," Saugus Coach John Maggiora said.

"We might get overlooked occasionally, but it shows we can compete with anyone," Valencia Coach Michael Killinger said.

It started with UCLA-bound Jack Ralston of Hart shutting out Alemany, 3-0. Then Kevin Chandler came up with a strikeout on his 133rd pitch with the bases loaded in the seventh to lift Valencia over Loyola, 1-0. And the day ended with Saugus eliminating No. 4-seeded Notre Dame, 10-0, behind a four-hitter from Caden Maher and Anthony Donatella.

While the Santa Clarita Valley has produced its share of championship football teams, baseball hasn't been too bad, either. Hart has been sending players to college and pro ball for years, including Trevor Bauer.

But the league has struggled to win playoff games since being moved to Division 1. The pitching hasn't been good enough until this season.

Saugus' upset of Notre Dame was about the Centurions' pitchers throwing strikes. Saugus scored runs early in the game on a bases-loaded hit batter and bases-loaded walk. Then Caden Salkeld, a junior outfielder, hit a grand slam to highlight a six-run third inning.

"Our guys made a promise they want to keep playing for as long as they can," Maggiora said. "They want to keep their endless spring. Our kids competed and really grinded."

For Salkeld, it was a moment of joy. The pressure has been on since he came to high school, because his father, Roger, is Saugus' best all-time player, taken No. 3 overall in the 1989 amateur draft as a pitcher. Caden has wanted to earn respect for his play, not from what his father accomplished.

"It's been tough," Caden said.

Dad was watching from the Notre Dame bleachers, smiling after the home run.

"It was enjoyable," Roger Salkeld said.

Another proud father was Gary Donatella, whose son, Anthony, threw 1 1/3 shutout innings of relief. It was in 2002, at age 48, that Donatella resigned as Sylmar's baseball coach to spend more time with his two young sons, Justin, then 7, and Anthony, then 4.

Justin was the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. pitcher of the year this season for UC San Diego. Anthony has been one of Saugus' best two-way players.

Donatella is retiring from his teaching duties next month and said he has no regrets about giving up coaching to watch his sons.

"Am I glad I did it? Absolutely," he said. "What's better than watching your kid play baseball?"

He gets to keep watching, because Saugus advances to host Mission Viejo Capistrano Valley in Tuesday's second round.

The longest playoff game of the day saw Arlington outlast Corona, 1-0, in 17 innings.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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