Call Sylmar High baseball Coach Gary Donatella the Sultan of Surprise.
Even in the big games, Donatella continues to reach into his bag of tricks.
In a key East Valley League game against Poly last week, Sylmar pulled out all of the stops.
The Spartans stole home, tried a ruse to pick off a runner at first, and relied on a squeeze bunt to win in the 11th inning, 6-5, sweeping a two-game series.
Sylmar (21-3, 12-0), The Times' top-ranked team in the region, beat Poly, 1-0, in eight innings Monday behind Carlos Velazco's two-hit gem and took a two-game lead over the Parrots (17-4, 9-3), The Times' No. 3 team.
Poly desperately needed to stop Sylmar two days later if it was to maintain a shot at the league title.
In the first inning, Art Diaz stole home on an 0-and-1 pitch to give the Spartans a 2-0 lead. Diaz later stole another base, giving him 12 this season. The number of times Diaz has stolen home, however, remains a secret.
"We wouldn't want other teams to find out about him, would we?" Donatella asked.
Diaz was in on the Spartans' second surprise as well. With a runner at first and two out in the second inning, Sylmar pitcher Mario Cervantes threw to first baseman Diaz in an attempt to pick off the runner. Donatella came out of the dugout, appearing irritated. "You got two (outs) now," he yelled. "There's no need to throw it away. Come on, you guys."
Seconds later, Cervantes faked a pickoff throw to Diaz who jumped with his glove high above his head. Cervantes started toward first. He pointed beyond Diaz and yelled, "Ball, ball, get the ball."
Pretending to retrieve the ball, Diaz took off into foul territory and the runner started toward second. Cervantes, who had not actually thrown the ball, applied a diving tag as the runner tried to get back to first. Nice play? Almost.
The base umpire called a balk, saying Cervantes had stepped off the rubber but then made a move toward home plate before faking the throw to first. The call upset Donatella, but after his team swept Poly he couldn't complain too much.
"We haven't done that in years," Donatella said. "We brought it out of the archives."
In the 11th inning, Donatella called for a bases-loaded squeeze with one out and Velazco delivered.
What's left in Donatella's arsenal? He's not telling.
"We might need 'em later down the road," he said.
With the start of the high school football season just four months away, there is plenty of action in the Sylmar camp.
Greg Marquez, the quarterback at Saugus last year, enrolled at Sylmar on Friday.
Marquez, who threw for 1,134 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, would have been the top returning quarterback in the Foothill League. Now he will have to compete against Eddie Lopez for the position.
"The seven-on-seven period will really tell," Sylmar Coach Jeff Engilman said. "But Eddie's got a head start."
Despite Sylmar's success (City Section 4-A Division champion in 1992, semifinalist in '93 and '91), a productive quarterback is something Spartan teams have lacked the past few years.
The offense has been run-oriented since Engilman took over in 1987.
"If Greg pans out and is as good as everybody says he is, that's just another weapon to use that we really need," Engilman said.
Marquez is the third player to transfer to Sylmar this semester, joining former Kennedy linebacker Erik Sweet and former Poly running back Gerrod Taylor.
"I would like to see a couple (of) linemen," Engilman said. "Our problem now is we're almost transparent."
With tailback Durell Price (6-foot, 210 pounds) headlining the cast, the Spartans are strong at the skill positions but lacking up front. However, few will probably feel sorry for Engilman: Price is a powerful and explosive runner who averaged 10.8 yards a carry last season as a sophomore fullback.
"Durell is not gonna come off the field. He's too big and too fast to take off," Engilman said. "The colleges are starting to come around and drool a little bit. It's kind of nice to build something around him."
Former Alemany softball slugger Krista Gomez could call him a traitor.
Bruce Gomez, Krista's father and first-year assistant at Alemany, has been working with junior Esmeralda Macias on slap hitting and drag bunting, which no one at Alemany did better than Krista. Until Friday.
Macias went four for four against Louisville to increase her season hit total to 54, which ties a school record set in 1992 by Krista, who is now playing for top-ranked Arizona.
"We turned her around and batted her left-handed last year," said Alemany Coach Dudley Rooney, who credits Bruce Gomez with Macias' success.
"He's really turned this kid into a hitter."
Macias is batting .600 (54 of 90) after hitting .320 as a sophomore.