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Pull in the Welcome Mat : Pitchers and Wind Ensure That Mission Bay Is No Place for Visitors to Play

Opposing hitters won’t find hospitality at Mission Bay High School’s baseball field.

Unlike most parks, the diamond at Mission Bay is laid out with home plate facing west, meaning batters must face both the afternoon sun and the stiff ocean breeze that continuously blows in from left field. Worse, opposing batters must face the Buccaneers’ pitching staff.

“We have a definite home-field advantage,” said Rusty Filter, who is expected to be Mission Bay’s starting pitcher today against University City. “If they hit a fly ball, it’s not going to go very far. Our whole team is more comfortable here.”

City West teams aren’t.

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Two weeks ago, Kearny lost, 6-0, with only one hit (a single) and seven strikeouts against sophomore pitcher Sean Rees. Last week, Clairemont lost, 1-0, with one hit (in the infield) and 10 strikeouts against junior left-hander Scott Vonderlieth.

“Pitching-wise, the field here helps me,” Vonderlieth said. “You can use it to your advantage a lot. If you’re behind in the count, you’re not afraid to throw a fastball because you know they can’t hit it out.”

Mission Bay (10-5) has won four of six games at home, and one of its losses was to San Diego Section 3-A Valhalla, the county’s No. 2-ranked team. Even this record pales when contrasted with last season when the Bucs were 11-1 at home en route to winning the City West title. Six of those were one-run victories.

“We don’t have many routs here,” Mission Bay Coach Dennis Pugh said. “This is a real pitchers’ park. So, it’s a big plus for us.”

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A pitchers’ park is generally a place where hitting is scarce, but Mission Bay’s pitchers seem to enjoy playing at home whether they are on the mound or in the batter’s box. Though few can hit in this windy, sun-swept field, Mission Bay’s pitchers can.

While pitching his one-hitter against Kearny, Rees went 2 for 4, driving in three of Mission Bay’s six runs. In the Clairemont game, Vonderlieth doubled off the wall in right to break a scoreless tie in the seventh.

“We hit pretty well here because we hit the ball on the ground a lot, though I don’t do that,” said Vonderlieth, who has much less trouble with the wind because he bats left-handed. “I just try to pull the ball as hard as I can. I can pull it out of here.”

After the two one-hitters at home and a 17-3 rout of University City on the road, Mission Bay appeared invincible. But that was dispelled earlier Monday when the Bucs lost, 7-5, at La Jolla High, a team that had a 3-8 record entering the game. Rees was touched for nine hits, including four doubles and a home run.

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“Some of those balls they hit at La Jolla, they would have been routine here,” Rees said.

Vonderlieth came back to throw a four-hitter Tuesday at University, but Mission Bay lost again, this time 2-1.

Can the Bucs’ pitchers can win without a wind? Filter, who catches the Mission Bay staff when not on the mound himself, believes the team has just hit a slump and that the Bucs have “the best pitching in the league.”

“I think our pitchers are pretty much smarter,” Filter said. “Our pitchers know the hitters better. All our pitchers throw hard and they don’t walk too many batters. They mix it up. They don’t have to rely on just one (pitch) working to be effective.”

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The cause of Mission Bay’s recent troubles, several team members say, was overconfidence. After their back-to-back shutouts, the Bucs were ranked by one newspaper as San Diego County’s top 2-A team.

“We just got really cocky about being the No. 1-ranked team--we started to believe that,” said Mack, the Bucs’ regular left fielder. “At the beginning of the year, before we had all the publicity, we were always fired up. I think losing those games is really going to help put us in our place.”

But to the brash Rees the opposite has been true.

“The last few games we’ve been missing that cockiness,” Rees said. “We don’t care to win . . . we haven’t had that killer instinct.”

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The two losses have not severely hurt Mission Bay, which is back at home and can regain the league lead by beating University City today. Both teams are 3-2 in league, but the Bucs--Rees, in particular--are confident of a Mission Bay victory.

“We’ll probably kill them here,” Rees said. " . . . We shouldn’t even have had a loss. I predict that for the next 10 games, we’ll go 10-0. We won’t lose again.”


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