They have won 10 games in a row and 18 of 19. They have scored 20 runs in two playoff games. With a win Tuesday, they advanced to the City Section 4-A Division semifinals.
Obviously, we are dealing with a team of well-known, strong-armed, ball-smashing, baserunning terrors, right?
More like candidates for an American Express commercial. Anonymity, thy name is Sylmar High. Example?
“We’ve outwalked teams by an incredible amount,” Sylmar Coach Gary Donatella said, beaming. “I don’t think anyone has more walks than we do. We sure don’t do it with RBIs, that’s for sure.”
Sylmar’s Jose Gallegos did, indeed, send Sylmar into the semifinals with a two-out, bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the seventh in a 12-11 win over Taft at Sylmar. Sylmar (19-3) is scheduled to play Kennedy today at 3 p.m. at Birmingham High. Second-seeded Kennedy (20-7) defeated University, 7-4, Tuesday.
Talk about divergent paths. Entering the playoffs, Kennedy had four players with at least 20 runs batted in. Sylmar had one player with more than 15. No wonder Donatella says that the team’s most popular refrain is one of unity, not selfishness.
“There’s no ‘Me, me, me,’ on this team,” Donatella said. “None of that team-being-second stuff.”
So Gallegos was hardly in shock when, with the count 3-and-0, Donatella flashed the take sign with the bases filled and the score tied, 11-11.
“He told me to take a deep breath and take it,” said Gallegos, a senior shortstop, who then proved Donatella’s team philosophy has taken hold: “A walk is as good as a hit.”
In this case, both player and coach were right. London Woodfin set the stage for Gallegos with a leadoff single to short off junior right-hander Benji Belfield. One out later, Dereck Ornelas drew a walk.
Eric Hinojosa looked like the probable hero when he singled to center, but Donatella, standing in the third-base coaching box, held Woodfin at third.
With the Taft outfield playing shallow, Belfield (4-3) struck out pitcher Tom Ball on an 0-and-2 curve, which temporarily underscored Donatella’s decision to put the brakes to Woodfin. Four pitches later, however, it was all over.
“I think maybe you have a tendency to let up after something like that,” Taft Coach Rich McKeon said. “Maybe that was the problem. Maybe Benji should have gone right at (Gallegos).”
Sylmar went right at Taft starter Chris Brown in the first inning, which included a two-run, inside-the-park home run to center by Woodfin. Taft, likewise, slammed Nino Romo around in the second inning. Adam Zutler led off with a home run to left, and Taft (16-11) added four unearned runs to take a 5-3 lead.
Keyed by a two-run double by Jason Shapiro, Taft scored five times in the fifth--batting around for the second time--to take an 11-10 lead.
Sylmar tied the score, 11-11, in the bottom of the fifth in typical fashion. Romo and Ornelas singled to open the inning, and, after a double-play grounder and a walk to Ball, pinch-runner Danny Hernandez scored when Belfield balked as Ball broke for second.
“We were trying to draw the balk or get the runner at first in a rundown,” Donatella said. “Either way, we’re breaking from third.”
And now his team is breaking news. But a couple of holes have sprung in the collective Spartan ship. A few players, it seems, have kept track of a personal statistic or two. “I’ve walked five times in two playoff games,” Gallegos said, grinning.
Statistical status quo. In 18 of Sylmar’s past 19 games, such selfless play has meant we, we, we, all the way home.