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Picking Off Pressure : With Roberson Patrolling the Plate, Mission Viejo Prepares for the 2-A Final

Times Staff Writer

Mission Viejo High School catcher Don Roberson can’t explain his sudden success behind the plate in the Southern Section baseball playoffs.

The junior has thrown out seven of nine baserunners and picked off three others in four playoff victories as the Diablos enter the 2-A division championship game tonight against Diamond Bar at Blair Field in Long Beach.

But Diablo Coach Ron Drake thinks he has the answer.

“Don is a placekicker on our football team, so he’s used to the pressure situations,” Drake said. “He kicked a school-record 47-yarder against Fountain Valley this year. He’s been on the spot before.”

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Roberson, a 5-foot 10-inch junior, has also been in the playoffs with the Diablos’ league-championship football team and twice as a midfielder on the school’s soccer team. But he admits everything seems to be going his way on the baseball diamond.

“It might be that the teams we’ve played in the playoffs have heard they can run on me,” he said. “I don’t blame them for trying to make something happen.”

But so far, aggressive base running hasn’t been the way to beat Mission Viejo. The Diablos’ 1-0 win over Santa Clara in the quarterfinals proved that.

Mission Viejo was clinging to a one-run lead when Santa Clara opened the sixth inning with a single. The next batter placed a good bunt in front of the plate that Roberson quickly handled and threw the runner out a second.

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Two pitches later, Roberson picked the runner off first base for the second out, and Santa Clara never threatened again. He also threw out a runner attempting to steal second in the fourth inning.

“Don was the difference in that game,” Drake said. “He’s always been the type of catcher who played well since he started as a sophomore, but not like this. He really rose to the occasion.”

Ace pitcher Bob Brucato, who has won 12 consecutive games this year, credits Roberson with a lot of his success.

“I trust him,” Brucato said. “He knows what I want to throw. The only reason two guys even stole on him was because I threw the pitches in the dirt. Don moves well behind the plate, and I can’t remember a pitch getting by him. He blocks the plate real well.”

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Roberson has been a catcher since his second season of Little League. He started playing soccer at 7, but didn’t play football until his freshman year at Mission Viejo.

“I like kicking,” he said. “Kicking may be my future in college. I’ve never had any professional help or attended a kicking school, but I plan on going to Ben Agajanian’s camp this summer. I’d like to kick or play baseball in college.”

Behind the plate, Roberson utilizes quick feet to position himself to throw out opposing runners. It doesn’t hurt that he also has quick hands and a good arm. But he says the three successful pickoffs were the result of poor base running.

“I was lucky,” he said. “In all three situations, I was playing against bad base runners. They came in sacrifice situations where guys were taking chances.”

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Roberson figures to have his hands full against top-seeded Diamond Bar (26-2), which features speedsters Kraig Washington and Casey Bresnhan. It will be Mission Viejo’s first appearance in a championship baseball game.

“I know I’ll be a little nervous before the game,” Roberson said, “but once the game starts, I’ll settle down. I worked hard during the summer on our American Legion team and became a better defensive catcher. I have confidence behind the plate.”

Although only a .250 hitter, Roberson has showed that he can be equally effective at the plate. He hit a home run against Fountain Valley in the seventh inning that tied the score, 9-9, and the Diablos went on to win, 11-9, earlier in the season.

“I know I can hit better than my average,” he said. “I have another year to work on my hitting, but right now, all I’m thinking about is Diamond Bar.”

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