Steve Marden is a preacher of the team concept largely because his San Fernando High baseball team lacks one dominant batter to carry the offense.
His philosophy stood up Tuesday as pinch-hitter Ralph Gonzales singled to break a 3-3 tie, leading San Fernando to a 6-3 victory at Birmingham that gave the Tigers their first outright league title in 26 years.
"The thing I really like is that we don't have any superstars, and a kid who doesn't play much comes off the bench and gets the key blow," said Marden of Gonzales, a senior whose sixth-inning hit scored Albert Torres, who had doubled to lead off the inning.
Said Gonzales, who is 4 for 4 as a pinch-hitter this season: "This was my biggest thrill in high school. Coming off the bench, I don't feel any pressure. I'd rather be starting, but I'll do whatever I have to to help the team."
Marden, who tasted a share of first place in the Mid-Valley League last season, made all the right moves in the title clincher.
Birmingham chipped away at a 3-0 deficit with runs in the third and fourth and had runners on first and third with none out in the fifth when Marden removed his ace, Frank Serna. Reliever Rudy Vargas allowed only a game-tying sacrifice fly in the inning before San Fernando answered with its winning rally.
After Gonzales put San Fernando ahead with a base hit off Birmingham starter Alan Sedacca, he raced home on Rich Ortiz's triple. Dan Meehan came in to relieve Sedacca, and Marden called for a squeeze bunt on the first pitch. The strategy proved unnecessary as Meehan's first delivery went to the backstop, scoring Ortiz with San Fernando's final run.
Vargas (3-1) ran into trouble in the bottom of the sixth, but reliever Vince Ortega bailed him out. Ortega retired four of the five batters he faced to record his fourth save.
"We've been practicing so hard for this," Ortega said. "Our goal has been to get to Dodger Stadium for the City finals, but we wanted to win our league first."
It was a frustrating day for Birmingham, which stranded 11 runners.
"We hit the ball well all day, but right at people," Birmingham Coach Wayne Sink said. "But that's baseball."
San Fernando (11-4 in league), which won two of three games from Birmingham (11-8, 9-6), will be one of four Mid-Valley teams advancing to postseason play.