If Mira Mesa's baseball team is feeling a little smug today, and perhaps into the weekend, it's because it has earned the right. It has nothing to do with winning, everything to do with respect.
Mira Mesa and Monte Vista gathered for the San Diego Section 3-A championship game Thursday at the University of San Diego. Mira Mesa jumped to a second-inning lead, was never seriously challenged and won, 8-1. But the game said a lot about the character of the teams playing it.
Both teams had screamed, scraped and made promises to higher powers just to get here.
From the moment the section seeding meeting ended, Mira Mesa Coach Mike Prosser was outraged that his team had been placed 15th out of 16 teams. The Marauders finished third in the City Eastern League, and only with the support of other league representatives did they make it in at all.
"We almost didn't get in," Prosser said. "But they never gave up. All their hard work and determination paid off. There's not a better group of kids around."
Ninth-seeded Monte Vista (20-12) was picked before the season to finish behind Helix, El Capitan and Granite Hills in the five-team Grossmont 3-A League, and did, but the Monarchs squirmed their way into postseason play and managed their first playoff victory in the school's 29-year history en route to the final.
"We had three goals at the beginning of the season," Monte Vista Coach Rob Phillips said. "To make it to the finals and win and to win 20 games. Well, two out of three isn't bad."
Not bad at all, considering the near-perfect game played by Mira Mesa (22-7). Every hit, catch, pitch and putout seemed to work in the Marauders' favor. And the second inning displayed that the best as Mira Mesa extended a one-run lead to seven.
Monte Vista's Robbie Stone struck out the first batter, then gave up eight consecutive hits and six runs, all earned, before getting out of the inning with two fly-outs. With all the potential relievers playing other positions, no one was throwing in the bullpen. Phillips waited until the sixth to pull Stone (10-5).
"There is where people will second-guess me," Phillips said, "but the balls weren't being hit all that hard. And he shut them down after the second."
Phillips said he waited so long because Stone was such a big part of Monte Vista being here.
"He won 10 games to get us here," he said.
Prosser was on the same wavelength, but he had to spread his pitching assignments around. He planned to have eight-game winner Marc Nielsen--a player he described as doing everything but driving the school bus--pitch four innings, which Nielsen did. Brendan Hause came in for two innings, but the appearance of Mike Bovee in the seventh brought the house down.
"Marc Nielsen deserved the right to start this championship," Prosser said. "Mike Bovee deserves the opportunity to go out and throw some pitches."
Bovee broke his ankle April 19; the cast was taken off Wednesday. Prosser said he didn't know if he'd let Bovee play until he watched him throw Wednesday night.
Nielsen (9-2) said he wanted to go the distance but added he even would have understood if Bovee had started.
"You heard everyone when he came in," Nielsen said of the cheers.
Bovee struck out two, but by then, Mira Mesa really needed no assistance. And here's a signal for the county: This team loses just one starting senior, outfielder Jaime Escamilla. That alone should earn them some respect next year.