It was the ultimate playoff nightmare.
Leading 10-1 going into the bottom of the seventh inning, Rolling Hills High appeared a cinch to beat Thousand Oaks and advance to the quarterfinals of the Southern Section 5-A Division baseball playoffs last season.
What happened next should be described in brief detail. Thousand Oaks rallied for nine runs in the seventh to tie the score and, after falling behind again, won it in the eighth, 12-11.
A year later, Rolling Hills Coach Garry Poe is preparing another team to enter the playoffs, this time in the 4-A Division. Several of the players who were part of last season's playoff disaster are back.
But don't make the mistake of asking Poe if the Titans will be affected by the memory of their painful exit in 1990.
"It's done," he said. "Over and buried."
What does Poe remember about that seventh inning?
"It seemed like it lasted about five days," he said.
Of course, Poe remembers more than that. He remembers Rolling Hills was in trouble when No. 1 pitcher Kirt Kishita wasn't on the mound. He remembers the Titan bullpen gave up eight walks in the infamous seventh inning.
And this season he set out to do something about it.
"Last year I really didn't have enough foresight to establish a No. 2 (pitcher)," Poe said. "Everything was kind of hully-gully. This year I didn't want to do that.
"Our goal was to win league and I thought we could get to the playoffs. But while we were doing those two things, we wanted to get someone to come forward and take charge. Dan Oldt has done that."
Oldt, a senior right-hander, has established himself as the team's No. 2 starter behind Kishita, perhaps the area's best pitcher. Oldt is 4-1 with a 1.48 earned-run average in 37 1/3 innings.
Kishita will start the playoff opener at 3 p.m. Friday against El Toro at Rolling Hills. But if things go bad for the Titan ace, Poe knows he can turn to Oldt without a dramatic drop-off in ability.
That's what you need in the playoffs.
Other teams that have established impressive two-man pitching rotations include Banning (Mike Busby and Mark Chavez), Torrance (Kris Radcliffe and Ralph Martinez), El Segundo (Brian Wise and Matt Gangawere) and Narbonne (Armando Cervantes and Craig Valenzuela).
Not surprisingly, all four of those teams won league titles, as did Rolling Hills.
One of the hottest No. 2 pitchers is Torrance's Martinez. In his last three starts, the senior right-hander has pitched complete-game victories over South Torrance, 5-1, Rolling Hills, 7-2, and West Torrance, 8-0, to raise his record to 7-0.
Rolling Hills' Kishita (8-2) has been nearly unhitable in the past two months, lowering his ERA to an area-leading 0.68. The senior right-hander has not allowed an earned run in 55 consecutive innings, since March 8.
The key to Kishita's success is that he consistently throws his curveball for strikes, a rarity for a high school pitcher.
"He's always had a good breaking pitch," Poe said. "He's also matured this season. He's developed into more of a pitcher instead of a thrower. We have a good enough defense that will not get him into trouble. And if we do get him into trouble, we'll get him out of trouble."
Poe is especially high on shortstop Tristan Paul, whose knack for making big defensive plays has gotten Titan pitchers out of several jams.
News that UC Irvine is considering dropping its baseball program as a cost-cutting measure struck close to home for two area seniors. Kishita and Miraleste shortstop Mike Ryan have both signed letters of intent with Irvine, but the agreements may end up not being worth the paper they were written on.
That's unfortunate for both players. Kishita passed up an offer from USC to sign with Irvine and Ryan was also being recruited by other schools. Since several weeks have passed since they signed, it's uncertain if those other scholarships are still available.
Equally unfortunate is that Kishita and Ryan are binded to Irvine until the school should decide to drop baseball. Once again, it proves that the school is protected more by the letter of intent than the athlete.
Unlike most second-place teams, Serra will not be playing in the Southern Section baseball playoffs.
The Cavaliers, who finished in a four-way tie for second in the Camino Real League, were denied a 2-A Division playoff berth because they lost a four-way coin flip Saturday to determine two postseason spots.
Serra, Miraleste, St. Anthony and Pius X each finished with 7-5 league records. Serra had two chances to earn a playoff spot, but lost flips to Miraleste and St. Anthony, the teams opening the 2-A tournament as the league's Nos. 2 and 3 entries behind champion Bosco Tech.
It's too bad the playoff berths couldn't have been decided on the field. A coin flip is no way to end a team's season.
The road to the state championship track meet continues this week for the area's top athletes with the L.A. City Section semifinals today at Birmingham High in Van Nuys and the Southern Section divisional finals Friday at Cerritos College. The Hawthorne boys' team will challenge Compton and Muir for the 4-A Division title in the Southern Section meet, while the Morningside girls, led by standout sprinter Santisha Arnold, are favored to capture the 2-A title. Morningside has the state's top times in the 400-meter relay (46.71 seconds) and 1,600 relay (3:49.08).
Mira Costa's volleyball team went down fighting Tuesday night. The Mustangs gave a strong Woodbridge team all it could handle before losing, 16-14, 15-10, 10-15, 14-16, 15-10, in the second round of the Southern Section 4-A Division playoffs at Mira Costa. The Mustangs lost the deciding fifth game after taking a 10-5 lead, as Woodbridge scored 10 unanswered points to close out the match. Rolling Hills, which finished second to Mira Costa in the Ocean League, gave a good accounting of itself against third-seeded Newport Harbor, losing in five games, 18-16, 15-13, 13-15, 11-15, 15-11, at Newport Harbor. . . . Camino Real League champion Miraleste, behind Brian Johnston's 16 kills, defeated Bishop Diego, 15-8, 15-7, 15-12, in a first-round 2-A Division match at Miraleste.
Jessica Tong of Chadwick successfully defended her Southern Section 2-A swimming titles in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle events and Deborah Kory helped the Rolling Hills girls' team place second Saturday in the division final at the Belmont Plaza Pool in Long Beach. Tong won the 50 freestyle in 23.67 seconds and the 100 in 50.81. Kory won the 100 breaststroke in 1:04.16 and was second in the 100 butterfly in 57.83. Rolling Hills, with 114 points, lost the 2-A title to Walnut (128 points) on the last event.
South Bay's Baseball Top 10 Selected by Times Sportswriters Through Tuesday's Games
Rank, School, League Record 1 El Segundo (San Fernando) 24-4 2 Torrance (Pioneer) 20-5 3 Banning (Pacific) 17-6 4 Rolling Hills (Ocean) 15-6-1 5 Narbonne (Southern) 18-7 6 St. Bernard (Mission) 14-8-1 7 San Pedro (Pacific) 15-6 8 West Torrance (Pioneer) 17-9 9 Hawthorne (Bay) 13-9 10 Mira Costa (Ocean) 12-12