One of the fundamental laws of baserunning, the Phil Nevin way, is simple: The quickest way to score is to run through an opposing catcher.
Nevin, El Dorado High School’s talented shortstop, demonstrated a crash course on his kind of baserunning Tuesday by scoring the winning run in the eighth inning of a 3-2 victory over Lakewood in the semifinals of the Southern Section 5-A division playoffs at Blair Field in Long Beach.
Nevin scored after a frightening head-on collision with Lakewood catcher Keith Tripp. Tripp lay face down near home plate for several minutes after the play and lost a front tooth. Nevin was ejected for failing to slide, but the winning run was allowed.
The controversial play moved El Dorado (22-8) into the championship game against Millikan (21-8)--a 2-0 winner over Hacienda Heights Wilson--at 7:30 Saturday night at Dodger Stadium. It also ended four years of frustration for Coach Steve Gullotti. El Dorado had been eliminated in the semifinals in three of the past four years under Gullotti.
The victory also avenged a 5-4 loss to Lakewood two years ago in the semifinals, a loss in which Nevin, a sophomore who moved to shortstop when Bret Boone was ejected, committed a crucial error that allowed two runs to score in the seventh inning.
“There was no way I was stopping at third,” Nevin said. “I saw the catcher two feet in front of the plate and straddling the line. There was no way to get around him, so I figured the quickest way to score was to go right through him.”
Nevin could have easily been out on the play. Lakewood right fielder Richard Lovan made a perfect throw to the plate after fielding a single by Matt Luke, and his throw appeared to have Nevin beat by a couple of steps.
But Tripp never completely controlled the throw and when Nevin came crashing home, the ball squirted away and El Dorado had the victory. An hour later, the principal parties were still debating whether Nevin should have been ruled out for failing to slide.
“If the catcher has possession of ball, then he can block the plate,” Gullotti said. “He never had complete possession for a full second, and the contact wasn’t malicious, so the run counts.”
Naturally, opposing Coach Walter (Spud) O’Neil of Lakewood had a different view.
“I thought our catcher had visible control of the ball and did a good job blocking the plate,” O’Neil said. “He’s got a tooth missing, so you know Nevin didn’t slide. Nevin was ejected for not sliding, so he should have been called out.”
Bill Clark, Southern Section administrator, said the play would stand since there is no avenue for protesting the playing rules in postseason play.
Lakewood (27-4) managed only five hits off Luke and reliever Pete Janicki (7-1). But the Lancers appeared to be headed to the finals when they broke a 1-1 tie with an unearned run in the seventh.
Shawn Hardy singled home Tripp with the go-ahead run after Tripp had reached third on a stolen base. Tripp was out by 20 feet on the play, but El Dorado third baseman Crosby Spencer dropped the ball.
Gullotti, who has been snake-bitten in past playoffs, was asked if he was sensing another heartbreaking loss.
“I wasn’t nervous,” he said. “I have not allowed myself to get emotionally involved in the playoffs this year.”
But El Dorado didn’t disappoint this time. Right fielder Greg Fife led off the bottom of the seventh with a towering triple to right-center and scored on Spencer’s sacrifice fly to tie the game, 2-2.