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A SUMMER ON THE BRINK WITH VALLEY CHATSWORTH.

Byline: Heather Gripp Staff Writer

It was the day after avoiding elimination an 11th time; the day after winning the region title and a berth in the American Legion World Series.

It was the day of one of Valley Chatsworth's biggest challenges - laundry.

The players had an extra day in Las Vegas and nearly a week's worth of clothes to wash before flying to Connecticut early Wednesday.

``That was an experience,'' second baseman Jason Spector said. ``That was harder than any game we've had to play. We were there forever. We're teen-age boys that are used to having mom take care of it.''

Reaching the World Series, which starts today in Middletown, Conn., seems easy compared to figuring out what gets hot, warm or cold water.

Chatsworth's path to the World Series included 11 must-win games after losing its opening games at both the state and Western Regional tournaments.

``It kind of wakes us up a bit,'' pitcher/outfielder Mike Kunes said. ``It gets it in the back of our mind that we can lose, reminds us how much we want it.''

The first step was the District 20 tournament.

The event featured what Chatsworth considers some of its toughest competition of the postseason but provided the smoothest route to a title.

Winning the Area 6 championship required winning three games in a little more than 24 hours.

``That's basically where it started,'' Spector said of the trend of advancing the hard way.

After wins the first two days, Chatsworth experienced an extra-inning loss to Camarillo. There was an hour of thinking about the bleak outlook, then a game against Ojai for the right to play Camarillo the next day for the championship.

``That was a huge loss,'' Spector said. ``That was almost the nail in the coffin for our season right there. We were pretty down at that point. That was probably the toughest day.''

The desire for a rematch with Camarillo and its power hitter Shane Miranda fueled Chatsworth's come-from-behind victory over Ojai.

Rested arms were so scarce by the tournament's final day, Chatsworth was desparate for Charles Kenny to pitch a complete game. He went the distance, aided by Jeff Spector's three-run home run.

Since it was Camarillo's first loss of the double-elimination tournament, the two teams played again that afternoon for the championship. A two-out single by Matt Fisher started a streak of eight consecutive Chatsworth hits in a seven-run second inning, breaking a scoreless tie. Kunes retired 11 of the final 14 batters, and Chatsworth took the title with an 11-3 victory.

``These guys eat, sleep and breathe baseball,'' Jason Spector said. ``We get on the field and we look at it as our field. We want to win. We get down a run or two and no one panics. We've always been able to answer back. We just try to win each inning. If they score two runs, we want to score three.

``The biggest thing is the will power. We always believe we can do it.''

The attitude is one of the first things Spector noticed when he and his brother transfered from Taft to Chatsworth for their senior year. The Chancellors won the City title. Winning is expected on the team that includes Fisher, who won a national title as a member of the 1994 Northridge Little League World Series team.

``They don't know how to lose,'' Jason Spector said. ``It's a lot different from what I came from. Now I don't know how to lose.''

Chatsworth immediatly fell into the losers' bracket at the state tournament when it opened with an 8-1 loss to eventual champion Danville.

Kunes and a controversial play kept Chatsworth alive the next day against Chino. Kunes gave up five hits to the first eight batters he faced but allowed two baserunners the rest of the way. He also hit a home run after Chatsworth got a break in the third inning.

Chad Redfern had been tagged in a rundown between third and home but was ruled safe when obstruction was called against the Chino catcher. Instead of ending the inning, Redfern scored the tying run and Chatsworth added three more.

Redfern, who was named the tournament's MVP for batting .474 with five home runs, had three homers the next day in a sweep of El Segundo and Stockton. Chatsworth trailed Stockton until a five-run seventh erased a 10-7 deficit. The 12-10 victory gave Chatsworth a berth in the final and secured a spot in the regional tournament since the top two teams advance.

The trip to regionals was Chatsworth's second in three years. The first time, Chatsworth started well, but lost in the final. This time, it lost right away.

``We felt disappointed,'' assistant coach Mike Encinas said. ``We lost because we made mistakes and we didn't play the way we are capable of playing, more than they beat us. We weren't really down, we were just disappointed we didn't play as well as we could.''

The turning point of the series was a 30-8 victory against Tucson, Ariz., in the final day of pool play. Scott Sellz had three home runs and 10 RBI in Chatsworth's 31-hit performance.

``From that point on, our confidence was real high,'' Jason Spector said. ``We all contributed to that game. We all knew we could do what it took to win.'' After a win against Greeley, Colo., in the semifinals, it was time for another comeback in the final.

Chatworth blew a 3-0 lead and trailed 8-4 by the third inning against Las Vegas Silverado. After the inning, the Chatsworth players huddled in front of the first base dugout.

``Never once did I notice any panic in our team,'' Spector said. ``We love the challenge. We love the challenge of facing a good team. It's almost like we dare them to show us what they've got, put up their best and try to beat us. That's exactly what happened (Monday).''

Kunes entered the game and pitched seven shutout innings while striking out nine. Jeff Spector sparked the offense with a home run and Chatsworth won 13-8.

In addition to the solid defense, hot hitting and the pitching of Kunes, Sellz, Kenny and Ryan Robbins, uniforms were added to the mix at regionals. Chatsworth wore its gray pants for the entire tournament. At the team meeting the night after the opening loss, the players unanimously decided to keep wearing the same dirty pants, ``to be bulldogs,'' according to Jason Spector. ``That's what we wanted to be.''

Thanks to Tuesday's adventure, the pants are clean again. Chatsworth plans to wear them throughout the World Series unless it is required to have home and away uniforms.

Chatsworth is guaranteed three pool-play games. More than one loss would essentially end any chance of advancing to the next round, but don't expect Chatsworth to be too discouraged if it loses today's opener aginst Brooklawn, N.J.

``It's almost going to be usual if we lose that game,'' Spector said.

``It's not our strategy,'' Robbins said. ``We don't try to (lose). It just gives us a push to have to win.''

Never Say Die

How Chatsworth advanced to the American Legion national tournament:

District 20: Chatsworth was the last undefeated team in the double-elimination tournament. Crespi then handed Chatsworth its first loss before Chatsworth beat Notre Dame 7-4 for the title the next day.

Area 6: After winning the tournament's first two games, Chatsworth lost in extra innings to Camarillo to drop into the losers' bracket. An hour later, Chatsworth faced Ojai in an elimination game. Two wins over Camarillo the following day gave Chatsworth the championship.

State: Chatsworth dropped to the losers' bracket by losing its opening game 8-1 to Danville but followed the next day with an 11-1 win over Chino. A day after that, Chad Redfern hit three home runs to help Chatsworth beat El Segundo and Stockton in the same day. The sweep earned a rematch with Danville in the championship game. Both teams in the final automatically advanced to regionals. Chatsworth primarily used reserves in the final and lost 18-8.

Western Regional: Chatsworth opened pool play with a one-run loss to Las Vegas Durango last week. Only the top two teams from each four-team bracket advanced, so another loss would have eliminated Chatsworth. Chatsworth beat Hawaii 9-8 the next day and secured a spot in the semifinals by beating Tucson, Ariz., 30-8 in its final pool-play game Sunday. Chatsworth defeated Greeley, Colo., 8-4 on Sunday and then trailed 8-4 in the third inning of Monday's final against Las Vegas Silverado before coming back for a 13-8 victory.

World Series Schedule

Pomfret Stadium

Middletown, Conn.

(All times PDT)

Today

Edmond, Okla. vs. New Brighton, 7 a.m. (National)

Gallatin, Tenn. vs. Bloomington, Minn., 7 a.m. (American)

Chatsworth vs. Brooklawn, N.J. (National), 2 p.m.

Kennewick, Wash. vs. Portland, Maine (American), 2 p.m.

Saturday

Bloomington vs. Kennewick (A), 7 a.m.

New Brighton vs. Chatsworth (N), 7 a.m.

Portland vs. Gallatin (A), 2 p.m.

Edmond vs. Brooklawn (N), 2 p.m.

Sunday

Edmond vs. Chatsworth (N), 7 a.m.

Kennewick vs. Gallatin (A), 7 a.m.

Brooklawn vs. New Brighton (N), 2 p.m.

Bloomington vs. Portland (A), 2 p.m.

Monday

American Division winner vs. National runner-up, 10 a.m.

National Division winner vs. American runner-up, 4 p.m.

Tuesday

Championship game, 4 p.m.

CAPTION(S):

11 Photos, 2 boxes

PHOTO (1 -- 9 -- color) (L to R): Scott Drake, Matt Fisher, Jason Spector, Jeff Spector, Kenney Charles, Scott Seliz, Steve Kracow, Mike Kunes, and Chad Redfem.

Gus Ruelas/Staff Photographer

(10 -- color) no caption (Valley Chatsworth)

(11) Chatsworth Legion player Matt Fisher, middle, was a member of the 1994 Northridge Little League champs.

Terri Thuente/Staff Photographer

Box: Never Say Die (see text)

World Series Schedule (see text)
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 20, 1999
Words:1643
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