Call them “team turmoil’ but also call them a qualifier for the CIF baseball playoffs.
A controversy-ridden Santa Monica High team on the verge of ending a disappointing season rallied for two improbable victories to attain a third place finish in the Ocean League and the league’s final berth in the Division 3 playoffs.
On Thursday Samohi scored four runs in the sixth inning to erase a 2-1 deficit to Culver City and won, 5-2. The win boosted Samohi into a one-game playoff Friday against Hawthorne to decide third place.
Samohi lost the coin flip for home field advantage, went to Hawthorne and trailed 5-2 in the sixth inning, then won, 6-5.
All season the turmoil has included complaints from parents about coach Rob Duron, prompting meetings with the administration, a newspaper letter to the editor from a coach of another Samohi sport calling for Duron to be replaced, criticism of Duron in the stands and players talking against teammates in the dugout. Some upperclassmen were overheard rooting against teammates, specifically younger ones who had beaten them out for playing time.
I’ve covered sports on various levels — high school, college and pro — for five decades and never experienced anything to this degree.
Coaches of Samohi opponents have said they’ve never seen it like this either. These coaches and Duron have expressed disappointment that the Samohi administration took no action against the letter writer, suggesting he at least should have been suspended from his coaching duties.
Sitting in the stands at Thursday’s home game I heard talk of the Samohi players simply wanting to get the season over with.
That theory took a beating when the players didn’t quit, instead coming together to prolong their season.
When the team bus arrived Friday at Hawthorne Duron addressed the players.
“There’s been a lot of crap this season but everything that’s happened up to this minute doesn’t matter,” he said. “What matters is what we do now.”
After the dramatic victory Duron said “It was a game for the ages. At last we became a team.”
There were several key players.
Freshman Adam Padilla didn’t start Thursday, giving up his left field position to senior Matias Letelier because it was the Vikings’ last scheduled home game.
But Padilla delivered a two-run pinch single in the winning rally. Then he was the starting pitcher in Friday’s game.
Catcher Colter Johnson hit two home runs and a double Friday. Drew Hammond hit a home run and game-winning double, then earned the save as a relief pitcher.
Second baseman Walker Dove ended Friday’s game with a superb defensive play with runners on base.
“These are guys who’ve been doing it all season,” said Duron.
If there is peace at last in the program it most likely will be short-lived.
Coaches at other schools who’ve heard rumors indicate Samohi is compiling a list of candidates for next season. And it’s questionable that Duron would return even if asked given the grief he’s encountered.
“I’ve tried to help the kids but if the administration wants to get somebody else that’s fine,” said Duron, who’s been a Samohi teacher for many years without coaching a sport. “I’ve coached at several places in the past. I know what I’m doing. But the average span of a baseball coach here since 1987 has been about three years.”
Duron was the coach in 1987. Others since then have been Eddie Frieston, Ben Dudley, Pete McKellar, Mike Crarnetzki. Kevin Brockway and Duron again. That’s seven coaches in 22 years.
By contrast, Rick Prieto of Culver City and Jeff Hines of Hawthorne have held their jobs for 13 years, creating stability sadly lacking at Samohi.
One last point about ’team turmoil.’ Tyler Skaggs, the pitcher likely to be a high choice in the June major league draft, is out with a sprained ankle and won’t be eligible to play in the first round playoff game because he’ll have to serve an automatic one-game suspension for being ejected at Hawthorne.
Skaggs did nothing wrong, but when the umpires told Duron to eject a player of his choice for players arguing from the dugout the star pitcher was selected.
“His ankle is beginning to get better but he wouldn’t have been able to play in the next game so it made sense,” said Duron. “Why give up someone who would be able to play?”
If Samohi wins its first round game it’s possible Skaggs may be able to pitch in the second round.