Nothing seemed to go right for the Westlake High baseball team at the start of the season, but the Warriors are making the end memorable with a postseason march that has landed them in a Southern Section Division III semifinal.
The Warriors (18-10) face Phelan Serrano (15-12) at 3:15 p.m. today at High Desert Stadium in Adelanto, home of the California League High Desert Mavericks.
Considered a preseason contender for the Marmonte League title, Westlake foundered and needed a victory on the final day of the regular season to secure a playoff berth. Injuries, hitting slumps and a schedule ravaged by rain all contributed to a slow start.
"Our practices and games were all screwed up because our field took forever to drain and we got frustrated and angry with each other," Warrior Coach Chuck Berrington said. "We just never got in a flow."
Westlake's top pitcher, Jeff Boyle, began the season recovering from a broken ankle suffered in a pick-up basketball game. David Williamson, the projected No. 2 pitcher, has not pitched after being diagnosed with shoulder tendinitis, and pitcher-catcher Nate Liberman was out for a time with injuries suffered in a car accident.
In addition, third baseman Kevin Howard, who hit .512 last season, batted under .300 much of the season. He has raised his average to .380 and has 12 doubles and 20 runs batted in.
Boyle (7-3) has recovered and usually pitches a strong five innings. Mike Alba (4-0, 2.55 earned-run average), who emerged late in the league season, has become the team's No. 2 pitcher and will start today.
Offensively and defensively, the Warriors are sparked by center fielder and leadoff batter Joey Cuppari, who is batting .471 with 25 stolen bases and has range that seemingly extends from foul pole to foul pole.
Second baseman Ryan Cope is batting .450 with 32 RBIs, left fielder Brian Bladen is hitting .440 and right fielder Mikey Brin has 34 RBIs.
"Our first three goals this season were to win the two tournaments we entered and the league title, and we didn't reach any of those," Berrington said. "But the [playoffs] have provided a silver lining."
Serrano, champion of the De Anza League, has a local connection in Coach Rod Stillwell, a 1985 Thousand Oaks High graduate and the younger brother of former major leaguer Kurt Stillwell.
"It's going to be interesting since I grew up in the Marmonte League and I knew the high level of baseball they play there," said Stillwell, who played collegiately at Arkansas. "I never thought we'd get a chance to play one of them. It will be a challenge but we've dealt with challenges all year."
Serrano, which won the 1983 Southern Section Small Schools title, is led by first baseman Steven Seeba, who is batting .778 with eight RBIs in the playoffs. Right-hander James Fogo (6-4), who threw a no-hitter earlier this season, will start today, with left-handed ace Nathan Esquer (9-5) in relief.
In other Southern Section semifinals today:
Crescenta Valley (23-3-1) vs. Yucaipa (19-10) at Blair Field, Long Beach--Each team has two top-notch pitchers to choose from in this 7 p.m. game.
Crescenta Valley will probably start junior left-hander Jordan Olson (9-1), who has battled back problems the past week.
If Olson isn't ready, senior right-hander Josh Herman (9-1) will start. Herman threw 4 2/3 innings of solid relief in Crescenta Valley's quarterfinal victory over Palmdale.
The Falcons, playing in the semifinals for the first time since 1993, will be on the road for the first time in the playoffs.
Yucaipa will likely start Johnny Torres (9-1), a left-hander who was on the mound when the Thunderbirds defeated top-seeded Bishop Amat, 5-2, in the second round.
Tom Carroll (5-2), a 6-foot-6 sophomore right-hander, is the other option for Yucaipa, which won Division IV titles in 1991, '93 and '94 and has moved up a division in three of the past four years because of increasing enrollment.
Temecula Linfield (21-3) at St. Bonaventure (12-12)--A pair of unlikely semifinalists meet in this 3:15 p.m. game at Seraph Field.
St. Bonaventure, a wild-card entry, won its first- and second-round games in extra innings after staging seventh-inning rallies. In the quarterfinals, the Seraphs won when an L.A. Baptist baserunner was called out to end the game after he failed to touch first base.
Temecula Linfield, winner of five section titles this decade and a semifinalist the past six years, won its quarterfinal game when a reserve hit a two-out, two-run home run in the sixth inning.
"The kid had never hit a ball over a fence in his life, but he was the hero," Temecula Linfield Athletic Director Scott Raftery said.
St. Bonaventure's go-to guy has been senior shortstop David Chapparo, who is batting .395 with 22 RBIs. Right fielder Matt Leeth, who was batting .339, had his season ended when he separated his shoulder in the quarterfinals. Freshman Gilbert Infante (5-2 with two saves) will start for St. Bonaventure, which last reached the semifinals in 1970.
Simi Valley Grace Brethren (21-2) at Colton Christian Center Academy--Grace Brethren was awarded a forfeit quarterfinal victory over Pacific Coast Christian after it was determined a Charger pitcher made four different appearances last week, in violation of Southern Section rules.
Grace Brethren lost to Pacific Coast Christian, 4-2, on Friday.
Pitchers cannot throw more than 10 innings in a week or appear more than three times.
Tris Wykes is a staff writer. Mike Bresnahan is a correspondent. Staff writer Eric Sondheimer contributed to this report.
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High School Baseball
Southern Section semifinals (all games at 3:15 p.m., unless noted)
Div. I: Crescenta Valley vs. Yucaipa at Blair Field, 7 p.m.
Div. III: Westlake vs. Serrano at High Desert Mavericks Stadium.
Div. V: Linfield at St. Bonaventure
Div. VI: Grace Brethren at Colton Christian Center Academy