HAWTHORNE — A season that has seen twists, turns and pretty much every other type of dramatic occurrence continues to entertain.
The Santa Monica High School baseball team won a one-game playoff, 6-5, against Ocean League rival Hawthorne Friday to secure third place in the league and an automatic playoff berth.
“It was one for the ages,” Head Coach Rob Duron said after the game. “All the credit goes to these players who have battled through all kinds of adversity this year.”
Senior catcher Colter Johnson proved to be the spark that lit Samohi’s blaze turning Hawthorne’s hopes for an automatic bid to ashes. Johnson’s two home runs — a first for a Samohi player this season — kept the team in the game, but it was his lead-off double in the seventh inning with the team down 4-5 that would ultimately set off a rally that ended with a two-RBI double by Drew Hammond, who also homered early in the game, that put the Vikings up 6-5, a lead that he would protect as a relief pitcher in the bottom of the seventh to secure the victory.
“I told the guys after the game that today, May 15, we finally became a team,” Duron said. “You’ve heard stuff off the field, but none of that matters right now.”
With the victory, Samohi will have to wait until Monday for the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section Division III playoff seedings to be announced at which time the Vikings will find out who and where they play. Considering the team finished third in league play, it is a near certainty that the team will not be granted a home game in the first round.
An appearance in the playoffs was all but dead just two days ago. Coming off a tough loss to Culver City on Tuesday, the Vikings were forced into a must-win situation in the rematch on Thursday, a game they came from behind late to win setting up Friday’s elimination game.
The surprising turn of events comes against a backdrop that at times has been anything but cordial. A number of parents have been particularly vocal in their disdain for Duron with some going as far as calling a parents- and players-only practice on Mother’s Day.
Duron brushes such bluster away, but said that it is disappointing that some parents overlook the fact that their children, the players, at times buy into the negativity and have at times brought that to the ball field.
He doesn’t blame them for reacting to what is said at home — and often in the stands — but believes that the focus should be on protecting the kids from such talk.
“I told them [Friday] that they may have heard a lot of stuff all year, but it shouldn’t keep them from giving their all on the field,” Duron said.
That approach appears to be working as the team has surged the past two games and have reached their goal of qualifying for the playoffs.
Duron said he would like to start Tyler Skaggs in the playoff opener, but feels that the star hurler’s sprained ankle may sideline him until at least the second round, if the team reaches that far.
For now, he’s decided to start Logan Whitchurch on the mound. Whitchurch has been the team’s second start all year and Duron believes he has the stuff to be a number one starter.
“Give us the hardest teams, we don’t care,” Duron said of potential playoff matchups. “This team has been able to battle the external stuff all year.
“Heaven help the team [we face in the playoffs] who thinks we’re just some third place team from a weak league.”