When Banning and San Pedro meet this afternoon in the championship game of the City 4-A Division girls' softball playoffs, it will be a matchup of good friends and bitter rivals.
Now that San Pedro has taken care of perennial power El Camino Real, the City championship is an All-South Bay affair. But more than that, it's a meeting of teams that know each other well. Players from both teams play together in summer touring leagues and have been friends for years.
But in the Pacific League, the teams are fierce rivals, as evidenced by two hard-fought regular-season games, both of which were won by San Pedro, the top-seeded team in the playoffs.
"It doesn't matter what happened in those first two games," Pirate Coach Tony Dobra said. "The kids realize what this is for."
The Pilots (15-6) and the Pirates (19-5) have many similarities, including:
* Powerful pitchers. Banning's Susann McKenna is 15-4 with a 1.01 earned-run average. She has struck out 121 and walked only 20 in 132 innings. She would probably have been first-team all-league selection if it weren't for San Pedro sophomore Petrina Martinez, who is 15-5.
* Catchers with big bats. San Pedro's Melissa Elgin was the league's most valuable player, and Banning's Tina Marquez leads the team with a .417 batting average and 22 runs batted in.
* Both teams would like to erase memories of past failures.
San Pedro has made it to the City championship game the past two years but has lost both times.
Banning simply wants to defeat San Pedro. In both games this year, defensive breakdowns in late innings propelled San Pedro to victory, 6-2 in the first game and 3-0 in the second.
"There were also some mental errors in those two games," Banning Coach Kathy Blankenship said.
Neither coach wants to fall into the trap of over-coaching and over-preparing against a familiar opponent, although that is the natural tendency.
"Sometimes if you know you're opponent too well, you try to do too many things," Blankenship said. "We have to keep doing the same things that got us here. We have to wait to hit our pitches."
Said Dobra: "You can get psyched up for a certain opponent. Sometimes that's beneficial and sometimes it's harmful. We're just preparing for the city championship.
"But if you have to play someone a third time, it might as well be for the City championship."
Even a City championship would have a hard time exciting Dobra more than his team's semifinal victory over El Camino Real last week. With that nine-inning 6-3 win, Dobra got a personal dose of revenge for six years of frustration.
Four times in the past five years, Dobra's Pirates had been knocked out of the playoffs by El Camino Real. And all four games were shutouts. Suffice it to say that Dobra took great pleasure in last week's victory.
"It was more draining on me than on the kids," he said. "They'll never understand what it meant to me to beat them."
Besides Martinez and Elgin, the Pirates are led by shortstop Victoria Brucker, who was the first girl to compete in the Little League World Series when San Pedro made it three years ago.
"Vicki has had a lot of attention, but she never gets a big head about it," Dobra said. "It would be easy to get that way with all the attention she's had."
Banning beat second-seeded Granada Hills, 3-2, to reach the semifinals. The Pilots played nearly flawlessly in all phases of the game. "If we play like that against San Pedro this time, there's no stopping us," Marquez said. "We're going to win."
The game, which will be at Cal State Northridge at 3 p.m., was moved from Friday because San Pedro's prom is that night. "I made some calls downtown," Dobra said. "And the league was nice enough to switch it for us."