HUNTINGTON BEACH — For virtually the last 24 seasons, elimination has been more a mathematical reality than a competitive experience for the Newport Harbor High baseball program.
So, when UC Irvine-bound senior pitcher Sean Vetrovec took the mound needing a victory to propel his team to the .500 record necessary for almost certain inclusion in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs as an at-large entry, he didn't know what to think.
"We've never been in this situation before," said Vetrovec, who was his usual, calm, composed, competitive self while tossing a complete-game three-hitter in a 4-1 Sunset League win at Marina.
The triumph lifted the fourth-place Sailors (13-13, 6-9 in league) beyond a losing record that Coach Evan Chalmers said he has been assured by section officials will put the Sailors into the playoffs for just the second time in 24 seasons.
"When our seniors were in the eighth grade, the 2010 team made the playoffs [ending a 19-season playoff absence]," Chalmers said. "But before , it had been a long, long drought. "They have put themselves in a position to compete in the playoffs, now, and this is really special. To roll a three [sweeping the three-game league series] against Marina really puts us on a different level. To do that and to win two of three against Los Alamitos really is a pinnacle to make a statement in the Sunset League."
Marina (7-19, 2-13) wound up in last place, but it's a proud program with a history that includes CIF championships, as well as a handful of eventual major leaguers.
But Vetrovec, who struck out six, walked seven and hit a batter, made sure the Vikings could not play spoilers. The right-hander, who improved to 6-4, stranded runners in six of his seven innings (10 total), including leaving the bases loaded in the seventh.
"He's been doing that kind of stuff all year long and he does it with runners on," Chalmers said of Vetrovec's clutch pitching. "He is one of the best competitors I've ever seen in high school sports. I've been around football and baseball for 20 years and he has to be right up there [among the elite]. He is just a bulldog."
Vetrovec also drove in the game-winning run with a single in a two-run third inning. Sophomore Cameron Jabara singled and scored the first run on an infield single and subsequent throwing error on a slow roller along the first-base line off the bat of senior leadoff man Connor Seabold.
Sophomore Luke Genova doubled in a run and senior Tk McWhertor added an RBI single to round out the scoring for the Tars, whose first four hitters were a combined nine for 13.
McWhertor was three for four in the cleanup spot, while Seabold, Genova and Vetrovec were all two for three.
Jabara also had two hits for the winners, for whom sophomore Jake Genova and senior Jake Norton also contributed to the 13-hit attack.
"[The elimination game] was sort of new for me, but it was fun," Vetrovec said. "I didn't have my best stuff, so I just tried to battle through it and let my defense work. And we scored enough runs to win."
Vetrovec was gratified that his team reached the .500 mark, but he was quick to point out that it was not enough to generate any historic celebration.
"We have a great [six-player] senior class that has been together for a few years," Vetrovec said. "We have good team chemistry and we work hard every day, so we knew we had a shot [to make the postseason]. But obviously there are no guarantees in anything and the Sunset League is great. We knew it would be tough and we knew we would be the underdog, but we knew we had a shot. We'll see what happens next, but right now, it is satisfying, yeah."
Newport Harbor 4, Marina 1
SCORE BY INNINGS
Newport 002 002 0 – 4 13 1
Marina 000 100 0 – 1 3 1
Vetrovec and McWhertor; Peugh, Gingery (3), Ohl (6), Camacho (7) and Marshall. W – Vetrovec, 6-4. L – Peugh. 2B – Vetrovec (NH), L. Genova (NH), Norton (NH).