In the end, it didn't matter that Capistrano Valley High School Coach Bob Zamora spent a Saturday afternoon at the beach instead of at Dodger Stadium, where his team thought he belonged. The teacher may have been absent, but the students had done their homework.
On May 28, Zamora was barred from coaching for the remainder of the season, after he was found to be in violation of a rule that prohibits organizing a team outside the baseball season. The telephone would be his only way of keeping up with the progress of his team during the Southern Section 2-A baseball playoffs.
On Saturday, Zamora got a call informing him that Capistrano Valley had defeated La Serna, 6-2, in Dodger Stadium to win the 2-A championship. The report card had arrived. Straight A's.
It's doubtful that Zamora's presence would have helped the Cougars hit any better than they did. After pounding out 19 hits in an 8-6 semifinal victory over Arroyo, Capistrano Valley had 14 hits against La Serna. Six of those came in the fifth inning, when the Cougars sent 10 batters to the plate, scored four runs, and made the Lancers forget all about the 13-game winning streak they took into the championship game.
Senior Brett Snyder tied a school record with his 12th victory of the season and went 3 for 4 with one RBI, then expressed what seemed to be the prevailing sentiment about the situation the Cougars have been in since the third round of the playoffs:
"Zamora taught us as much as he could have taught us," he said. "All he could have done for us now was give us emotional support. I think we played better without him, because (losing him) sparked us so much."
La Serna (19-6-1) took a 2-0 lead in the third inning, with the help of a Cougar error. Scott Hilland led off the inning by hitting a smash that, after a bad hop, bounced off the chest of Capistrano Valley shortstop Bill Bardens. Todd Johan followed by pulling a Snyder pitch just fair down the first-base line for a double. One out later, David Johnston scored Hilland with a sacrifice fly to center. Mike Westmoreland followed with a run-scoring single to right.
That brought up Manny Cervantes, who came into the game with a .488 batting average, 8 home runs and 28 RBIs--all school records. Snyder got Cervantes to hit into a force play to end the inning, and begin the Cougars' turnaround. He retired the next eight La Serna hitters, and the Cougars, who had run themselves out of some early scoring opportunities, began putting their offense together.
Capistrano Valley had a runner picked off in the second and another thrown out at the plate in the third, and the Cougars left the bases loaded in the fourth. Still, they entered the fifth with a 2-2 tie, and that's when things began to collapse around La Serna starter Rich Poliquin.
Poliquin's first pitch of the fifth was lined to right for a single by Marcel Durand. Poliquin's next pitch was also lined to right, this time by Brian Walker. Snyder followed with an RBI single to left to give the Cougars a 3-2 lead and force La Serna Coach Jon Eno to seek relief for Poliquin. Mark Dressen came in and gave up Bardens' run-scoring single to left. Matt Spence and Tommy Adams each drove in runs with singles before the inning was over. The rally was typical of the offensive balance Capistrano Valley has displayed throughout the season.
"There's no weak hitter in our lineup," Durand said. "We had no worries. I've been on teams when we were down by two runs and players start kicking each other. That didn't happen with this team."
The Cougars had a team batting average of .334 coming into Saturday's game. Only Chris Ashbach, who had two hits and three RBIs in last Tuesday's semifinals, went hitless against the Lancers.
Snyder jokingly suggested that there ought to be a rule against a batting order like Capistrano Valley's.
"I don't think it's fair that we can have a team like this," he said smiling. "All this talent. It isn't fair."
The Cougars really didn't think it was fair when Zamora was barred from coaching his team. Craig Anderson, the Capistrano Valley assistant coach who took over in Zamora's absence, said the Cougars could have fallen apart after the ruling, but didn't.
"After the shock of the rule and the interpretation, we didn't know how they'd react, especially in that first game at El Centro," Anderson said. "They just did a hell of a job."
The Cougars rallied for a 4-3 victory over Central that day. They learned then that Bob Zamora didn't swing their bats for them. And on Saturday, that lesson was reaffirmed.
The Cougars finished the season 27-3. La Serna's final mark was 19-6-1.