Every good hitter needs someone behind him in the lineup for protection.
At El Camino Real High, where left-handed slugger Woody Cliffords swings the meanest bat, that role belongs to cleanup hitter Conor Jackson.
On Thursday, Sylmar learned why.
Jackson, a sophomore third baseman, had four hits and drove in four runs in El Camino Real's 15-3 victory over the Spartans in a City Section 4-A Division semifinal baseball game at Birmingham High halted after five innings because of the 10-run rule.
The No. 6-seeded Conquistadores (18-9) advanced to the title game against top-seeded Chatsworth (29-3), a West Valley League rival, on Thursday at Dodger Stadium in a rematch of the 1990, '93 and '94 championship games.
El Camino Real, defending City champion, won the last two meetings.
"We are going to enjoy it," said Mike Maio, El Camino Real's coach, about his team's trip to the final. "I just hope we make a good appearance."
They definitely made an impression against Sylmar (22-7), which was seeded No. 2.
The Conquistadores pounded 14 hits off three pitchers and knocked out right-hander Mario Pacheco (7-4) after one-third of an inning. Jackson started the hit parade.
After Matt Schwartz lined out to third leading off the game, Jarrod Maiden and Cliffords walked, the first of three consecutive walks for the Pepperdine-bound Cliffords.
Jackson followed with a double to right-center field, scoring Maiden. Pacheco uncorked wild pitches that scored Cliffords and Jackson to give the Conquistadores a 3-0 lead.
Pacheco hit Kurt Birkins with a pitch and Coach Gary Donatella called for ace Ivan Hernandez, who was playing left field.
It didn't help.
Hernandez, a junior right-hander who pitched 10 2/3 innings over two games since Friday, including a 68-pitch relief stint in Sylmar's 4-3 victory over Banning on Tuesday, wasn't at his best.
The Conquistadores got to Hernandez for three runs in the second inning, six in the fourth, and the rout was on. He gave up seven hits and four walks before giving way to Fidel Espinoza with two out in the fourth inning.
"From the second hitter on, we didn't pitch very well," Donatella said. "That was one of our strengths all year."
Sylmar entered the game with a 3.03 earned-run average, with Hernandez at 1.52. But El Camino Real gave both marks a major jolt, scoring 11 earned runs.
The Spartans never quite challenged Cliffords, who finally got a chance to swing in the fifth inning and drilled a run-scoring single to right field, but Jackson cashed in every time.
After Cliffords walked on four consecutive pitches to load the bases with two out in the second inning, Jackson belted a triple to center field off the glove of diving Eddie Camacho to put El Camino Real ahead, 6-2. Jackson singled in the fourth and fifth innings.
"I was looking where they were playing me in the outfield," Jackson said. "I was trying to place the ball."
Sylmar pulled to within 3-2 after one inning when Camacho's two-out single to center field off right-hander Johnny Koegel scored Pacheco and Hernandez, and cut the deficit to 6-3 in the second inning on a flyout by Edson Gonzales that scored Jordan Plasencia.
Pacheco led off the third with a double to left field and Maio replaced Koegel with left-hander Ryan Gunches (4-1), who held the Spartans to one hit in three innings for his second victory of the playoffs. Gunches beat Carson, 9-8, in relief on Tuesday.
"It's fun but it's nerve-racking," Gunches said. "I was just trying to relax and throw strikes."
Sean McElroy had three hits for El Camino Real, including a double, and Mike Leduc and Brandon Kahan each had two hits.