Prep baseball playoffs : Southern Section 3-A : Abbott Keeps Gahr at an Arm's Length in 6-5 Upset

Times Staff Writer

Paul Abbott's spirits were in much better condition than his pitching arm Friday after the Sunny Hills High School baseball team rallied for two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to upset top-seeded Gahr, 6-5, in a Southern Section 3-A quarterfinal game played on the Lancers' field at Fullerton.

Abbott, who pitched two complete games in the playoffs to help Sunny Hills reach the quarterfinals, went another 6 innings Friday before tiring in the seventh, when the Gladiators scored three runs to take a 5-4 lead.

But the euphoria resulting from RBI singles by Pat Fegal and Russell Fredericks in the bottom of the seventh quickly erased the pain of a sore arm and a blown lead.

"My arm's hanging, but I feel good," Abbott said. "One minute, you think you've got the game, then you lose it, and then you win it back again. I feel like I'm on top of the world."

With all the work Abbott has placed on his right arm during the last week, he must have felt as if he was holding up the world.

The senior went the distance to shut out Corona, 5-0, in the first round last Friday and pitched another complete game Tuesday to lead the Lancers past Leuzinger, 6-1, in the second round.

He had only two days rest entering Friday's game but cruised into the seventh inning with a two-hitter and a 4-2 lead, thanks, in part, to Mike Lutz's solo home run in the first inning and Rod Turner's two-run HR in the fourth.

Then, Abbott's world caved in.

Derek Dehdashtian lined a single off the pitcher's right leg and Ron Hauczinger followed with a single to right field. Abbott struck out Keith Harrison for the third time but then allowed a single to David Hunt, which bounded away from Fegal in center field. Dehdashtian, who had stopped at third, scored on the error.

Doug Elliott, Sunny Hills coach, replaced Abbott with Dave Martinez, who promptly allowed an RBI single to Nino Torrez. Pinch runner Scott McFarland scored from first on the hit when the ball scooted under left fielder Tim Byrnes' glove.

Gahr led, 5-4, but blew a chance for a 6-4 lead when Lancer catcher Adrian Schicker picked pinch runner Robert Ford off third for the second out. Vern Hildebrand walked but Pat Redaja popped to first for the final out.

The Lancers went right to work off Gahr reliever Steve Vernola. Troy Brown singled to lead off the seventh. Byrnes squared to bunt and was hit by a pitch, and both runners advanced on a passed ball.

Fegal singled to right field for the tying run and, one out later, Fredericks bounced a single up the middle past a drawn-in infield for the game-winner.

"It would have been very easy to pack our bags and go home when the No. 1 team scored three runs in the seventh to take the lead," Elliott said. "But as soon as we got into the dugout, I had the feeling we were going to score some runs.

"I didn't say a word to them. I felt they were mature enough to know what to do, so they deserve all the credit."

His players may be seasoned, but not because Sunny Hills is a team with years of playoff experience. The Lancers (23-5) won their first league title in the school's 26-year history and had won just one playoff game prior to this season.

But, outside of the two outfield errors, they made all of the big plays Friday to advance to Tuesday's semifinals against Lompoc, a 3-0 winner over Santa Ana.

Lutz opened the game with a home run to left-center field, the result of a hanging curve by Dehdashtian, the Gladiators' starter. Sunny Hills took a 2-0 lead in the third thanks to heads-up baserunning by Byrnes.

Byrnes was on second when Hildebrand, the Gahr third baseman, went to the mound to talk to his pitcher without calling timeout. An alert Byrnes stole third easily and scored on a one-out wild pitch.

Had Byrnes not been at third, he might not have scored, as Fredericks flied out and David Wackerman grounded out to end the inning.

Defensively, Sunny Hills turned two unconventional double plays, in the first and third innings, to hold off the Gladiators.

Don Phillips singled in the first and was stealing when Bret Barberie popped to Wackerman at third base. Phillips slipped near the second-base bag and couldn't beat Wackerman's throw back to first.

In the third, Gahr attempted a bunt-and-run play with Hunt stealing second and Torres getting the ball down to the left side. Wackerman threw Torres out at first, as Hunt rounded second and headed for third.

Abbott failed to cover third, but Schicker (the catcher) got to the base in time to take Turner's relay from first and tag out Hunt.

"When the No. 1 team comes in to your park, it can be intimidating, but we didn't let anyone scare us," Elliott said. "The home run in the first inning was a big lift. Lutz really makes us go."

The Gladiators (26-4) finally got their offense going in the fourth inning when Dehdashtian connected for a two-run double down the third-base line.

But Sunny Hills came right back in the bottom of the fourth to go ahead, 4-2, when Turner lined a two-run homer to right field off Dehdashtian, who entered with an 11-0 record but was not impressive Friday.

"They made the plays, they made contact when they needed to and they outhit us," said Tom Bergeron, Gahr coach. "Our pitcher lost his concentration after the (game-opening) homer, and he didn't pitch well today. The two double plays were our own fault."

Abbott struck out six but appeared to be tiring in the middle innings when he walked two. He finally had to come out of a playoff game for the first time, but that won't disrupt the Lancers' pitching rotation.

"I'll just ice it up and give it a go Tuesday," Abbott said.

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