Tigers Need to Claw Their Way to Better  Playoff Position

M. Terry / SFVS

Wanting to Leap Forward — Tony Meza and Matt Dodd say it's time for San Fernando to concentrate on preparing for the upcoming City baseball playoffs.

It was probably a good idea to let some time pass before reaching out to San Fernando High Baseball Coach Armando Gomez after the Tigers lost to Palisades High of Pacific, 8-5, on March 30. For one thing, Gomez doesn’t like losing. And he could not have been happy by the way his team lost: blowing a 4-0 lead, seeing the Dolphins score eight consecutive runs before San Fernando got one last tally in its last at-bat.

Indeed, Gomez was still replaying the contest somewhat in his mind when he spoke with a writer 24 hours later.

“(Starting pitcher Matt Dodd) is our guy, and going into the fifth inning he’d only thrown 80 pitches,” Gomez said. “I was trying to get one more inning out of him because he is our guy….Last week against Taft he pitched a gem, he threw only 68 pitches in the game [but still] lost 2-0 —- he was cruising, too.

“With the (Tiger Classic) tournament games, since I’m the director, I pick the best teams I can. Sometimes it hurts you but sometimes it can help you big time. That’s why I started the Tiger Classic 10-11 years ago; the seeding is based on City vs. City, so you try and knock out one team from every league. You can put yourself in a good position when you get seeded (for playoffs).”

Or you can limit your chances for a high seed with the wrong results.

The tournament games won’t affect the Tigers’ pursuit of a fourth straight Valley Mission League title. (The 2017 title was shared with Kennedy High.) And tournament games can also give Gomez and his staff a chance to observe some different combinations of pitching and lineups if so desired.

 What the loss did do was drop the Tigers’ overall record to 9-4 going into play this week, (The April 3 league game result between San Fernando and Canoga Park was unavailable at press time). The losses are to City Division I nonleague opponents Roosevelt, San Pedro and Taft in addition to Palisades.

There are 28 teams in City Section’s Division I. Eight teams go into the Open Division bracket, and 16 teams go into Division I bracket. Tiger fans can feel pretty confident that San Fernando will have a postseason future somewhere. But if the playoffs began tomorrow, the Tigers would be the eighth and final Open seed.

While seeding can have an impact on a team’s playoff hopes, what it really comes down to these days in City and Southern Section baseball is how good your team is playing when the postseason arrives. No City team has recently figured its own formula for reaching peak performance better than Birmingham Community Charter High, the two-time defending section champion.

So there’s no need to panic, Gomez said. But there is a need for some urgency.

“We need to get more serious, more hungry. We’re not at that point yet,” the coach said. At the same time, he notes, baseball is more marathon than sprint. “I used to want them to come out the chute on fire, being on top with everything — hitting, timing and pitching. It doesn’t work like that. You have to keep getting better and better (as the season goes along).”

He said he may seek more leadership from team veterans like Dodd and Tony Meza. Both players say that it’s time for Tigers to be more of a team.

“I believe we have more depth this year in our pitching rotation and our lineup,” said Dodd, a senior who is 2-4 on the mound and who’s struck out 27 — but also given up 24 hits — in his 29.1 innings of work. “And I definitely feel we can make a run in the open division. But we need some more camaraderie on the team. We need to battle back more when we’re down, we need to stay focused.”

Adds Meza, a junior who’s 5-0 with a gaudy 5-0 record and 1.09 ERA in a team best 33 innings pitched, “I know I need to be more of a team leader because right now it’s just me and Matt. We’re trying to get everyone on board, wake everyone up.”  

San Fernando’s bats could stand a little more refining. But the Tigers do have some arms to throw at people. Besides Dodd and Meza there’s sophomore right-hander Nate Flores, a transfer from Alemany High who is now eligible, and whose talent level isn’t close to peaking. Bryan Torres is not a name many people other than Tiger fans would know, but he can be an innings-eater if needed.

Beginning with the April 3 game against Canoga Park, San Fernando has 11 regular season games remaining. That doesn’t leave much wiggle room for a team wanting to improve its potential seeding in the Open Division. Their next chance comes Saturday, April 6, against Narbonne High of Harbor City.

Another boost could come from the annual Durango Tournament in Las Vegas during the Spring break. San Fernando will be playing top teams from around the country. A good showing would certainly raise the profile.

“Having the Easter break later this year could work to our advantage,” Gomez said.

Regardless, the Tigers realize it’s time to go to work.

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