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Prep baseball: The No. 2 reasons

Wildcats, Cents relying on second arms

Posted: May 22, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: May 22, 2012 1:55 a.m.

West Ranch No. 2 pitcher Cody Bennett will try to take down 2009 CIF-Southern Section Division I champion Capistrano Valley.

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There is something that the last three CIF-Southern Section Division I baseball champions have in common.

It’s something that many other division champions and even Foothill League champions have in common.

Each team has had a definitive ace — in many cases a dominant ace.

And each team has had a reliable No. 2 starter.

“I’ve never seen a team win league without two good arms,” says West Ranch head coach Casey Burrill. “Certainly we haven’t seen anyone march deep into the playoffs unless they’ve had a really good second arm.”

West Ranch and Saugus go into today’s Division I second-round games with commonalities, too.

Each team is going in with its No. 2 starter expecting them not to be shut-down guys, but to keep them in the game.

And each team is going in with a Bennett.

West Ranch has junior Cody Bennett on the road against 2009 Division I champion Capistrano Valley.

Saugus has senior Chad Bennett opposing defending Division I champion J.W. North on the road.

Two pitchers, two No. 2s who have very different stories on how they got here. Nonetheless, each team is confident with what it has going today.

Cody Bennett has taken a backseat to likely Foothill League Most Valuable Player J.C. Cloney, the Wildcats’ ace who is 8-1 with a 1.58 ERA this year.

Yet Bennett is 5-3 with a 2.18 ERA in 54 2/3 innings.

The junior has one of the oddest deliveries this valley has seen in recent years.

He pulls the ball out of his glove, then drops his right arm to his hip like he’s taking a gun out of a holster and slings the ball to home plate.

His three-pitch repertoire of fastball, curveball and change-up has the appearance of pitches coming at you then diving at the last second.

Yet being on the mound for West Ranch almost didn’t happen.

“He said he didn’t want to pitch. It wasn’t for him,” Burrill says. “But we saw him throw. He had this kind of a weird arm slot, weird arm angle. We said, ‘Cody, are you sure you don’t want to pitch?’”

Says Cody: “I just wanted to hit and do all that stuff. When I was a freshman, I was a pretty good hitter. I wasn’t going to pitch.”

As a freshman, he was the freshman team MVP as its best pitcher and won the same award as a sophomore on the JV.

Now against Capistrano Valley, he has the biggest start of his life. Will he have butterflies?

“I’m sure I will on that two-hour bus ride, and I’ll have butterflies once I get into the game,” Cody says.

Chad has a different feeling going into his start. He has this intense fire that was born in the anger he felt last year as a junior.
The right-hander threw six innings, walking 17 batters, before being demoted to the junior varsity last season.

“It was bad,” he says. “I didn’t eat. I didn’t sleep. I remember my first game I went down to JV, it was against Canyon at Canyon and we’re losing. My coach said, ‘Bennett, you’re going in.’ I took every bit of anger and disappointment and pounded the catcher’s glove as hard as I could.”

Chad took that feeling into this season, but didn’t find his spot until midway through Foothill League play.

Saugus head coach John Maggiora acknowledged early in the season that for his team to have success, it would need a No. 2 starter.

Chad didn’t pitch much in the summer and fall for the Centurions because he was nursing an injury.

His first start of the season was Saugus’ 21st game.

He allowed no earned runs in 4 2/3 innings in a win against Golden Valley on April 20.

In four starts this season, he is 2-1 with a 1.81 ERA.

“It’s nice knowing he’s had some good starts, otherwise you think, ‘What do we do (in the second playoff game)? Go Wally Wholestaff?,” Maggiora says. “Knowing he’s gone deep into games and had success, it’s important — important for the team.”

Now Saugus has some confidence with who it has on the mound.

That confidence is already there with staff ace Justin Donatella (9-2, 2.04 ERA) — a candidate for Foothill League Pitcher of the Year.

Donatella went six innings in Friday’s 10-2 win over Oxnard.

Cloney went 6 1/3 innings in a 6-3 win for West Ranch over Riverside Poly.

Both head coaches said there is no chance they would bring their aces back to start on three days rest for today’s games — though they could be available out of the bullpen.

The hope is that each Bennett can give his team some innings and keep the game tight.

It’s not like they haven’t done it before.

And if they do it again, they could see their teams into the quarterfinals with their aces back on the mound Friday.

661-287-5529

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