When the Southern Section 4-A championship game between Lakewood and Esperanza high schools had finally ended Saturday night, Aztec reliever Doug Saunders hurled his glove from the mound all the way to the visiting dugout in Dodger Stadium, a good 100-foot heave.
But this was no jubilation toss. Rather, it was Saunders reacting to the frustration of a ninth-inning error that allowed Lakewood to score the game's only run and defeat Esperanza, 1-0, before a crowd of 8,258.
Saunders didn't make the error, but he obviously felt as responsible for the loss as third baseman Brent Bish, who did.
Saunders walked Dewey Kaeka, the Lancers' No. 8 hitter who had entered the game with an .067 batting average, with one out in the ninth to start the Lakewood rally.
Mike Lombardi then bunted down the first-base line and Saunders--who fielded the ball on the run--was unable to tag Lombardi, who dove into first for a single. Paul Graves followed with a single to left field to load the bases.
Saunders fell behind the next batter, Ross Shanberg, 2-0 on the count, but came back to strike him out for the second out of the inning.
Loren Lujan then chopped a high grounder to third that bounced off the heel of Bish's glove. Kaeka scored the with the winning run.
Bish, who turned a ninth-inning grounder down the line into a game-ending double play in the Aztecs' 7-5 quarterfinal win over Servite, was charged with an error.
"I don't know if he lost it in the lights, or what," Esperanza Coach Mike Curran said afterward. "He makes that play 99 out of 100 times."
The error made a winner out of Lakewood senior Mike McNary, who pitched a two-hitter and struck out 13 to gain his fifth playoff victory. The 5-foot 8-inch, 145-pound right-hander, who threw 114 pitches in the Lancers' semifinal win over El Dorado, threw 123 more Saturday night. He ran into trouble only once, though, and that was in the top of the ninth.
Aztec left fielder Bart Goldman led off with a single to center and advanced to second on Bish's groundout. Lakewood Coach Spud O'Neil elected to walk No. 3-hitter Tom Redington and pitch to Saunders, who came into the game with a .439 average, 6 homers and 28 RBIs.
Saunders worked the count to 2-2 but was caught looking at a fastball that nicked the outside corner for out No. 2. McNary then got Jason Moler to fly out to end the inning. McNary is the first pitcher this season to shut out the top-seeded Aztecs.
"I was intimidated at first because of their reputation as mashers," said McNary, who is headed for Loyola Marymount next season. "But I just came out and went at them. I felt strong the whole game. This is a total dream."
Said Curran: "He's the best pitcher we've seen since who knows when. No one has ever did to us what he did tonight. He was gonna beat us no matter what. You just don't win games with two hits."
The Aztecs nearly did, thanks to a strong pitching performance by sophomore right-hander Roger Weems, who had missed most of the playoffs because of a strained muscle in his neck. He was listed as doubtful as late as Friday.
Weems, who faced only two batters in the first round before departing with the injury, pitched superbly for 5 innings, allowing five hits, striking out nine and walking only two. He kept Lakewood off balance with an assortment of fastballs, curves and off-speed pitches.
The Lancers threatened only twice against the sophomore, putting runners on first and third in the first inning and first and second in the fourth.
Lujan and Matt Nuez singled with two out in the first, but Weems struck out John Baldwin for the final out of the inning. With two on and one out in the fourth, Weems struck out Fred Pena and picked off pinch-runner David Stark, who was on second, to end the inning.
Curran decided to pull Weems in the sixth, after his wild pitch allowed Baldwin to advance to second. Saunders, who had won one game and saved another in the playoffs, came on and got Pena to pop up to catcher Fred Ashcraft for the inning's final out.
Esperanza, which was bidding to become the first Orange County baseball team to win back-to-back championships, closed the season at 25-3.
The loss extended to 17 years a streak in which no 4-A team has entered the postseason playoffs ranked No. 1 and then won five games to win the championship.
The last team to live up to its No. 1 ranking was Lakewood, which won the title in 1970. The Lancers finish with a 25-7 record.