Aiulu Talanoa admittedly was nervous when his son Kenny, right fielder for El Segundo High, stepped to the plate with the Eagles trailing Santa Clara of Oxnard, 5-3, in the bottom of the sixth inning Tuesday.
In his heart, though, the elder Talanoa sensed something good was about to happen.
"When you need somebody to get a base hit, you couldn't find anybody better than Kenny," he said.
Talanoa, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound senior, responded with a one-out, three-run homer to center field that sparked El Segundo to a 9-5 victory in the second round of the Southern Section 2-A Division playoffs.
It wasn't the first time Talanoa has come through in the clutch.
Last season, he delivered the game-tying hit in the Eagles' 14-13 comeback victory over La Canada in the 2-A quarterfinals, and two weeks ago he drew a lead-off walk and scored the tying run in the sixth inning as El Segundo rallied for an 8-6 win over St. Bernard that decided the Camino Real League title.
Aiulu Talanoa said when his son gets in pivotal situations, it becomes a personal war between Kenny and the pitcher.
"He gets very determined when the game is on the line," he said. "I wish he could do it the whole game. When the chips are down, he's not going to let you off easy. It'll take a million-dollar pitcher to get him out."
Despite his size, Kenny Talanoa is not a power hitter. His home run was only his fourth in 78 at-bats this season. Last year, when El Segundo won the 2-A Division title, he had only one homer in 100 at-bats.
"He doesn't hit like his older brother," said Aiulu Talanoa, referring to his eldest son Scott, a former El Segundo standout who hit 14 home runs from 1985-87. "Kenny is very content to make contact. But every now and then he will hit one for distance."
Following Talanoa's homer, sophomore Jeff Poor homered to nearly the same spot in center to make it 7-5.
From all indications, El Segundo's players and fans were concerned until the team rallied for six runs in the sixth inning against Santa Clara.
"They scared us," said second baseman Eric Stevenson. "They were a good team, but we knew we could come back because we've done it so many times before."
Said Aiulu Talanoa: "I was nervous. My goodness, it was incredible."
El Segundo improved its playoff record to 64-19 in 31 seasons under Coach John Stevenson. The Eagles have won at least one playoff game in 21 of those seasons.
It's difficult to recall a more devastating defeat than the one Rolling Hills suffered Tuesday in the Southern Section 5-A baseball playoffs.
The Titans took a 10-1 lead into the bottom of the seventh inning, only to watch host Thousand Oaks rally for nine runs to tie the score and then win it in eight innings, 12-11.
The Rolling Hills bullpen failed, walking eight batters in the seventh, including the first five of the inning.
The game began on a weird note. Thousand Oaks, unhappy with the way it had been playing at home, rented a bus with booster club funds and drove from one end of campus to the baseball field.
This, presumably, provided the players with the illusion of a road game.
St. Bernard's baseball team has been on a hitting streak since it lost to El Segundo two weeks ago.
In two 2-A Division playoff games, the Vikings have collected 31 hits and 27 runs. They hit five home runs Tuesday in a 16-8 victory at Agoura.
"I think El Segundo got into our people," Coach Bob Yarnall said. "We've just been a ball of fire in practice since that game. I think our kids know we can play with anybody after scoring six runs against them."
St. Bernard, which has scored in 13 consecutive playoff innings, got home runs from Jeff Richardson, Grant Hohman, Larry Williams, Andy Dawson and Sean Friedin on Tuesday. It marked the second consecutive season the Vikings eliminated Agoura in the second round. They won, 6-4, last season.
But St. Bernard pitchers have allowed eight runs in each of the past three games.
"We have new pitching this year," Yarnall said. "I know we're going to have to score a lot of runs. But I don't care if we give up eight runs as long as we win."
The Vikings have now reached the quarterfinals in each of Yarnall's five seasons as coach. They reached the semifinals in 1986 and '88 and the finals in '87. Tuesday's victory was Yarnall's 100th at St. Bernard.
Torrance brought a .333 batting average into the Southern Section 5-A playoffs, but the Tartars were undone Tuesday by the off-speed pitches of Westlake's Jerry Clark.
The left-hander limited Torrance, a fastball-hitting team, to eight hits in a 4-1 Westlake victory. Clark struck out five and walked none.
"You have to give their pitcher credit," Torrance Coach Jeff Phillips said. "He held us in check. He threw a lot of off-speed stuff and kept us off-balance."
Phillips said Westlake's fans provided another obstacle.
"It's a unique atmosphere up there," he said. "It's a difficult place to play, but it didn't seem to bother our kids. I'm disappointed (that we lost), but I'm real pleased with the way the season turned out."
Torrance, which tied Rolling Hills and Beverly Hills for the Bay League title, finished 19-9 in Phillips' second season as coach.
Mary Star's baseball team has posted impressive regular-season numbers in the past two years, compiling a 35-10-2 record and either winning or sharing the Santa Fe League title.
In the playoffs, though, the Stars have been a bust.
Their 8-7 loss to Santa Ynez Tuesday marked the second consecutive season they lost at home in the second round of the 2-A playoffs after drawing a bye in the first round. Last year, they lost to Morro Bay, 9-8, at Fromhold Field in San Pedro.
But it's not just Mary Star.
The entire Santa Fe League has performed poorly in the playoffs the past two seasons, compiling a 1-6 postseason record. Co-champion Miraleste lost at Atascadero, 19-5, Tuesday.
By comparison, the Camino Real League boasts a 2-A playoff record of 11-2 over the past two seasons.
For the second year in a row, Mira Costa has come up with a fertile way to raise funds for its football program.
The Mustang football field will be parceled out into 5,000 one-square yard plots. Temporary rights to each plot can be purchased by supporters for $10.
Then, at 6:30 p.m. June 8, a well-sated mustang will be allowed to roam the field until it is required to answer nature's call. The person owning the plot that has become newly fertilized wins 10% of the funds, up to $5,000.
Tickets are available from members of the Mira Costa football team, or by contacting Bea Berdnik at 546-1170 or Cheryl Eddings at 546-6826.
El Segundo right-hander Rob Croxall had his string of consecutive scoreless innings ended at 31 when he gave up two runs in the second inning Tuesday against Santa Clara. . . . St. Bernard pitcher Andy Diver, a junior right-hander, improved to 11-1 Tuesday against Agoura to tie the school record for most pitching victories in a season. Dan Melendez was 11-3 last year. . . . Arizona State basketball Coach Bill Frieder came by Mira Costa a few weeks ago to check out Chris Davis, the Mustangs' 6-8 forward. Davis will be a senior next fall.
Two Teams Still Alive El Segundo and St. Bernard, the only South Bay high schools still alive in the Southern Section baseball playoffs, will play quarterfinal-round games in the 2-A Division tournament at 3:15 p.m. Friday.
Top-seeded El Segundo, the Camino Real League champion, won a coin flip Wednesday to earn the home field. The Eagles (25-3) face Valley Christian of Cerritos (19-3) at Recreation Park in El Segundo.
Camino Real League runner-up St. Bernard (19-6) lost a flip and will travel to face Yucaipa (21-4-3), located in San Bernardino County about 30 miles west of Palm Springs.