Ventura High had been flying high, pounding Channel League baseball teams with a heavy-hitting lineup that features eight returning starters. Seven Cougars are batting better than .350 and in a recent showdown with Rio Mesa, they unleashed a flurry of swings that all seemed to connect, winning 20-5.
Meanwhile, a finesse pitcher at Hueneme was quietly doing his homework. And when vaunted Ventura sauntered onto its home field Tuesday with nine consecutive victories under its belt, Sam Flores floored the Cougars with a three-hit shutout.
The Vikings were the ones sauntering around the bases as Ventura pitchers issued 13 walks in an 8-0 win that kept Hueneme (5-2-1 in league play) one game out of first. Rio Mesa is 6-1-1 and Ventura is tied with Hueneme for second.
This wasn't the first time Flores has had Ventura fit to be tied.
"Last year he beat them, 3-2, and in our 2-2 tie earlier this year Sam went eight innings," Hueneme Coach Reg Welker said.
Control of his pitches and knowledge of the hitters were the keys, according to pitching coach Dennis King.
"We know their hitters like the back of our hands," King said. "I call the pitches and Sam hits the spots. He had full concentration on what he was doing."
The Ventura lineup is full of aggressive hitters who like to swing at first-pitch fastballs. So Flores started them with curves and busted fastballs in on their hands.
Dailey hits: One of three hits allowed by Flores was a single by Steve Dailey, the Ventura center fielder who has 40 hits and a .563 batting average.
The hit extended Dailey's streak to 10 games, which coincides with his move from third in the batting order to leadoff hitter. During one stretch, he reached base 16 times in a row.
Said Coach Dan Smith: "The most amazing thing is that before I moved him to leadoff, he had scored seven runs and had seven RBIs. Now he has 31 runs scored and 31 RBIs."
Going the distance: Lupe Herrera of Hueneme pitched a three-hitter Friday against Oxnard for his first complete game. He recorded seven strikeouts, including five in a row.
Herrera and Flores bear the brunt of Hueneme's pitching duties. Herrera has pitched 51 innings in 14 appearances and Flores has logged 53 innings in 13 appearances.
"Those two have been real consistent for us," Coach Reg Welker said.
Hueneme's top hitter is Gabe Diaz, the school's best receiver and defensive back last fall. Diaz, only 5-7, is batting .439 with 7 doubles, 3 triples, 19 RBIs and 9 stolen bases--leading the team in all categories.
Ventura victim: Bobby Ayala can attest to Ventura's hitting prowess. The Rio Mesa senior right-hander was sailing along with a 5-0 record before the Cougars pounced on him last week for six earned runs in three innings en route to a 20-5 Ventura win.
"Bobby will bounce back," Rio Mesa Coach Rich Duran said. "He's definitely the ace of our staff and next time we play Ventura he'll definitely pitch."
If that's the case, the Cougars can be sure Ayala, who is 8-1 after defeating Buena on Tuesday, won't pitch around anybody. The 6-3, 180-pound right-hander has walked only 12 batters in 58 innings for Rio Mesa.
Lupe groupies: Another Channel League player drawing accolades is Oxnard second baseman Lupe Carrillo.
"He's as as good as any kid around," Ventura's Smith said.
In a game Friday against Ventura that was rained out after two innings, Carrillo hit a home run in each inning and drove in four runs.
Those statistics don't count but Carrillo ranks behind only Dailey in the league with 36 hits, a .507 batting average and 23 runs scored. He also has a league-leading 12 stolen bases.
Boosters' save: Oak Park no longer will have to play without its own batting helmets and the junior varsity without a catcher's mask. The booster club raised enough money to buy new equipment.
"The boosters did a great job raising the money," Coach Ron Veres said. "We owe them a big thank you. It was getting pretty embarrassing having to borrow the other team's equipment."
Veres said he received a $900 budget to purchase baseball equipment before the start of the season. But $450 went to buy new baseballs, $380 for hats and the rest for miscellaneous equipment.
The boosters donated two new sets of catcher's equipment and six helmets each for the varsity and junior varsity teams.
Big hopes for small squad: Moorpark reserves have dwindled to two, but Coach Mario Porto remains optimistic.
Two players quit the team early in the season, leaving Porto with 11 players. But Porto doesn't feel it's a disadvantage to have a small roster.
"I think it's a plus because everyone gets a chance to play," Porto said. "We have a young team and they need playing experience. We have two players sitting on the bench who are paying attention to the game because they know they're going to play.
"Maybe if a fight broke out we would be at a disadvantage."
Porto doesn't expect to have a small roster next season. Three varsity starters are sophomores and the junior varsity consists of 17 players.
Pickoff artists: The Kauffmans of Simi Valley learned a tough lesson at Thousand Oaks last week--never challenge Lancer catcher Julie Chellevold to a contest on the basepaths.
Sisters Kelly and Tammi Kauffman both were picked off first base by Chellevold, a senior who will attend Ohio State next year on a volleyball scholarship.
Kelly was thrown out after a base hit in the first inning, and Tammi was victimized after drawing a walk in the fourth inning of the Marmonte League game.
"I really got caught unaware by her," Kelly said. "I just didn't expect her to throw it so fast."
Chellevold and the rest of the Lancers, though, have come to expect it as a matter of course.
"We've gotten quite a few people out at first and third this year," Chellevold said.
Lancer first baseman Jamie Heggen, who caught Chellevold's pickoff throw on Tammi Kauffman, says that the catcher's leadership abilities make practice of the pickoff move unnecessary.
"We don't practice it at all," she said. "Julie and I, we just make eye contact, and we just know. With Julie, when there's a runner on base, I know there's a good chance of picking off someone."
There's also a good chance that the next "someone" to be picked off by Chellevold and company won't be named Kauffman.
"Everybody was kidding us about it," Kelly said. "They were saying, 'Boy, we have two pickoffs, and they're both in the Kauffman family. Isn't that funny?'
"I just said, 'Yeah, real funny.' "
UCLA-bound: Oxnard High senior Heather Suskin will attend UCLA to compete in swimming. She has recorded a 1:09.78 in the 100-yard breaststroke, which is two tenths of a second shy of qualifying for the junior national team. She was a member of the team last year.
Special Olympics: The Ventura County Special Olympics track meet will be held Saturday at Ventura High's Larrabee Stadium. Opening ceremonies begin at 9:30 a.m.
Approximately 600 developmentally disabled athletes aged 3 to 68 will participate on 26 teams.