Conejo Valley Turns Playoff Into a Big Payoff

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The one-game American Legion District 16 baseball playoff game between Conejo Valley and Westlake had all the makings of a grudge match: Two archrivals pitted against each other with only one coming out alive.

But Conejo Valley first baseman Chris Grodell knocked a three-run home run, highlighting an 11-run first inning, that started the Lancers toward a 16-5 victory in a game shortened to six innings by the 10-run rule.

The win moved district runner-up Conejo Valley (22-6, 11-6 in district play) into the 6th Area playoffs Thursday at UCLA's Jackie Robinson Stadium. Conejo Valley will meet Santa Monica, the District 24 runner-up, at 9 a.m.

Camarillo is the District 16 champion.

"These kids are street fighters," Conejo Valley Coach Craig Sturges said. "I don't want to take anything from Westlake, but our kids weren't going to let things get away. This is what you dream about, our kids wanted to win."

A mix-up over umpires cost Conejo Valley a win earlier in the season, and Westlake (10-7 in district play) picked up three extra victories courtesy of Simi Valley forfeits, forcing Tuesday's playoff. Under those circumstances, Conejo's first-inning rally could be seen as a message. If so, it got through to the Westlake players.

"We were in such a hole it was tough to get out," Westlake Coach Larry Gershon said. "When you are down that many runs, it is pretty tough to come back."

Besides Grodell, the Lancers got a big offensive showing from center fielder Brent Christenson, who had six runs batted in, including the final two that gave the Lancers the 10-run lead.

It also raised Christenson's season total to 39 RBIs on 57 at-bats.

The performances of Grodell, who redshirted at USC last spring, Christenson and the rest of the Conejo Valley batting order made things easy for winning pitcher Adam West, who looked shaky in the first inning. Westlake scored twice to take a short-lived 2-0 lead.

"I started to get hit a lot and I thought I was going to get pulled out," West said. "After getting the big lead, I was able to throw strikes and let the players in the field make the plays."

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