SOUTHERN SECTION BASEBALL PLAYOFFS : 5-A DIVISION : Marina Continues Its Upsetting Ways, 4-1
Marina High School rallied for three runs in the sixth inning to upset Westlake, 4-1, Tuesday at Blair Field and advance to the championship game of the Southern Section 5-A division baseball playoffs.
Marina (16-12-1) will meet Diamond Bar (21-8) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Anaheim Stadium.
An unlikely victory? Well, consider that Marina was one of three teams to enter the 32-team playoffs with a losing record and struggled to finish third in the Sunset League. What’s more, Marina hadn’t won a playoff game since 1976.
Westlake (28-2) was the top-seeded team in the division and was ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today. But the lofty rating had something to do with Westlake’s downfall, Marina pitcher David Schultz says.
“The team went to breakfast this morning and we were passing around the newspaper,” Schultz said. “We were laughing and asking ourselves, ‘Who are we kidding? We’re playing the No. 1 team in the nation.’
“Then, we started getting the attitude that, ‘We have everything to gain and nothing to lose.’ We were pretty relaxed when we took the field.”
Schultz (7-2) allowed only three hits and hit a two-run triple off relief pitcher Mike Eby in the sixth inning that keyed Marina’s rally. Schultz hit a curveball to the right-center field wall to drive in pinch-runner Chuck Huang and Marc Newfield, giving Marina a 3-1 lead.
Designated hitter Nick Valencia completed the inning with a long double to deep center, scoring Schultz, chasing Eby and pushing Marina ahead, 4-1. Afterward, Schultz said he was more impressed with his pitching than his clutch hit.
“My coaches keep telling me that I’m paid to pitch, not to hit,” Schultz said. “It (the triple) was something that just happened. The ball was high, outside and never broke. I saw it perfectly and went with it.”
Marina becomes the sixth county team to reach the 5-A championship game in six years, but the odds of reaching the final were about as remote as Schultz escaping a bases-loaded jam in the first inning.
Westlake loaded the bases with one out when Schultz walked a batter and then watched his infield momentarily collapse. An error and a misjudged grounder that was ruled an infield hit loaded the bases, but Newfield responded with a nifty double play at first.
Newfield fielded a grounder and threw home to catcher Robin Lindsey for the second out. Lindsey turned and fired back to Newfield to complete the double play.
Westlake took a 1-0 lead when third baseman Todd Preston hit his second homer of the season over the left-field wall. Marina tied the score in the fourth without the benefit of a hit as Newfield walked, stole second and scored on a two-base throwing error.
The stage was set for a comeback in the sixth when Lindsey and Newfield opened with sharp singles to left. Later, Lindsey said he figured if he reached safely, Marina would win the game.
“I knew in my mind that if I got on base, we were going to score,” he said. “And I was getting on base no matter if it took a bunt, a high chop or even a walk. He hung a curveball and I drove it.”
Paul Renfrow, Marina coach, was asked the difference between his team’s struggle through the regular season and its performance in four playoff games.
“Confidence,” he said. “The pitchers have the confidence knowing that if they throw strikes, our defense will make the plays. Our infielders have the confidence to make the plays and our hitters have the confidence at the plate.
“I think we’ve proven we can play with anybody in our last three games. We talked about playing Westlake, but the No. 1 ranking never really came up.”