San Fernando High baseball Coach Steve Marden has been through this playoff business about a million times. Consequently, he has developed his own terminology, partly to coerce, partly to scare his team.
After all, if a club shows up with its head in the sand at this stage of the season, the other team might just kick dirt all over the rest of it.
Marden, then, is part caretaker, part undertaker. For instance, he refers to the single-elimination format as "sudden death." And if that doesn't send a chill up his team's collective spine, there's always the creaky, cobweb-filled pine box in his office.
"There's an empty box inside the office," Marden said with a grin, "just waiting to be filled up with uniforms."
A tad grim? Perhaps, but San Fernando was indeed the reaper Wednesday, taking advantage of 11 walks to defeat visiting Kennedy, 7-3, in a City Section 4-A Division quarterfinal game. San Fernando (18-6-2) will play El Camino Real in the semifinals Friday.
From the outset, Marden ordered his team to sit back on Kennedy starter Denny Sharp (8-5), who had pitched a complete game four days earlier. The tactic paid off; Sharp walked four batters in the second inning, two of whom forced in runs to help hand San Fernando a 3-0 lead.
Trailing, 4-1, defending champion Kennedy (17-10) rallied for two unearned runs in the fifth off left-hander Canto Franco. Ben Guzman led off with an infield nubber and moved to second on Billy Ramirez's walk. With two out, Franco (9-0) hit Troy Bourne in the foot, loading the bases for Garret Anderson, who had doubled and scored Kennedy's first run in the fourth.
Anderson delivered, drilling an 0-2 curve off the glove of a leaping David Rojas at second to bring Kennedy to within 4-3.
On came reliever John Najar, who had as much smoke on his fastball as he had coming from his ears. Najar had come to the plate three times--twice with the bases loaded--and stranded seven runners. In the bottom of the fifth, he would fan for the second time with the bases loaded.
Time for atonement.
"I had to make up for that," Najar said. "That was embarrassing."
With runners at first and third, Najar retired Lazaro Campos on a grounder to short to maintain the one-run lead.
San Fernando added two runs in the fifth on a pair of bases-loaded walks and another in the sixth on a run-scoring single by sophomore shortstop Luis Rodriguez, but Kennedy mounted one last rally in the seventh.
Pinch-hitter John Davis led off with a double and moved to third on a single by Jason Rosen. Najar then retired Bourne on a ground out, bringing up Anderson--who has signed to play at Fresno State.
Najar struck out Anderson on three pitches, the last a wicked slider. Najar walked Campos to load the bases before striking out Palmer Drain--the potential tying run--to end the game.
Call it a stake through the heart.
"John didn't do the job with the stick," Marden said. "So I guess he realized he had to do it with his arm."