Smashing time for CdM

The Angels and Dodgers are nowhere near the top of the Major League Baseball standings, but the fix may be easy.

Perhaps the teams should have deployed scouts to the Corona del Mar High small gymnasium this spring. They would have seen CdM students, teachers and administrators alike hit plenty of round-trippers.

To be fair, the home run in CdM's 13th annual Whiffle Ball Tournament don't go more than 300 feet. All the batter has to do is hit the back wall of the gym, smacking the ball with a plastic bat after it's lobbed to them by a teammate.

Nothing could be better to tournament director Gary Almquist, the CdM activities director who recently resigned after 17 years as CdM's wrestling coach.

"It doesn't matter who hits the home run, it's fun," Almquist said. "When you hit a home run, it's a blast. You're a kid again."

There were plenty of home runs hit in the tournament championship game Friday afternoon at lunchtime, 17 of them to be exact. Eleven of those were hit by the winning team, "Dream Team," which beat, "DDN," 13.5-8, in the seven-inning game.

Dream Team, which featured Corona del Mar High juniors Jake Duncan, Nolan McCarthy, Sam Younesi, Blake Sudeck and Jules Pouch, won the five-on-five, co-ed tournament for the second straight year. They topped DDN, which featured CdM seventh-graders Max Foxcroft, Tanner Smith, Preston Hartsell, JT Schwartz, Jack Genova and Sara Hauser.

The win felt good for the members of Dream Team, who become just the second CdM whiffle ball team to repeat. "Champs," captained by Shawn Maxwell, won back-to-back titles in 2004-05.

"We used to be like those kids, where we'd talk so much [trash] to the seniors and stuff," said Younesi, the Dream Team captain. "It gets so heated, and now we're [in that older position]. It's kind of ironic, you know?

"It's fun, because most of us play baseball. [This whiffle ball tournament] is more competitive than people would think it is. It's more like tradition now. It's been since seventh grade that we've done it, but we won the last couple of years."

The Dream Team broke open the game in the top of the sixth inning, when it launched six straight home runs. Almquist said the tournament's all-time record is eight in a row.

Younesi hit three homers in the championship game, while Duncan, McCarthy, Sudeck and Pouch, a CdM girls' volleyball player, hit two each. Foxcroft and Hartsell hit two each for DDN, which stood for Distinct Diamond Nation.

"This is fun," said Foxcroft, the DDN leadoff hitter. "It's competitive. We're just out here to have fun. Next year our team's going to compete again, get back in it again ... We were happy that we made it to this game."

The tournament has featured as many as 60 teams; this year there were 24. The single-elimination tournament began May 20.

There is a list of 20 rules, such as that the ball must cross the center of the gym to be a fair ball. The game is team-pitch, and each team gets one offensive and defensive "re-do" per game. The visiting team gets an extra half-run before the game starts, to prevent ties.

Almquist likes to preserve the fun spirit, but also serves as the tournament historian. He keeps score at the games, with help from CdM freshman Dillon Davis this year. Almquist has compiled both season statistics and all-time statistics, including stats like "web gems."

CdM freshman baseball player Evan Larsen hit a league-best 42 home runs this year; only R.J. Duernberger in 2006 (53) has hit more CdM whiffle-ball jacks in a single season. Larsen was part of the 2013 Whiffle Ball Dream Team, not to be confused with the tournament champion of the same name. Duncan, Hartsell, CdM sophomore Teddy Stuka and staff member Emily James were also selected to the dream team.

Hartsell, one of the seventh-graders, came into Friday's game with a CdM whiffle-ball record .881 batting average. He hit a home run in 40% of his at-bats this year.

"I'm the best at what I do," Hartsell said before the game, without a hint of a grin. "I swing hard and I put every single ball out of the stadium. That's what I do."

Participation in the tournament definitely isn't limited to students. Almquist himself was on two teams, and CdM coaches like boys' basketball coach Ryan Schachter, boys' water polo coach Barry O'Dea and girls' soccer coach Bryan Middleton also played. CdM Middle School Principal Guy Olquin batted .714, smacking five hits in seven at-bats.

Almquist grins when he talks about CdM science teacher Kim Rapp. She has 435 lifetime at-bats in the tournament, which is third among all participants, but this year she hit her first two home runs.

"She has a 0.005 home-run percentage," Almquist said with a laugh, "but I mean we're like high-fiving her and hugging her and everything."

As Almquist said, when you hit a home run, it's a blast. The Dream Team players, who will be seniors next year, talked of a "three-peat" after Friday's win.

The tournament continues knocking it out of the park, year after year.

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