Players in the Southern Section Division 1 baseball playoffs can dream about celebrating a championship at Dodger Stadium, but giving legitimacy to the dream only occurs after a team proves it can win with its No. 2 pitcher.
That's why what transpired Tuesday afternoon in Placentia could be a defining moment for No. 3-seeded Studio City Harvard-Westlake. Coach Matt LaCour hadn't won a playoff game with his No. 2 pitcher since he took over the program six years ago. He decided it was time to put Conor Cuse in the spotlight.
Cuse, who made varsity as a freshman three years ago, then got sent to junior varsity because of control problems and didn't return until this season, gave up four hits in six innings of Harvard-Westlake's 12-1 victory over El Dorado in a second-round playoff game.
"The idea is that Conor and the rest of our pitching staff are going to have to win two games for us to win the whole thing," LaCour said.
Cuse (8-1), who has committed to Stanford, struck out two and walked one. He was given a 12-0 lead by the fourth inning thanks to the Wolverines' flawless execution on offense. There were six bunts that resulted in sacrifices or hits. Joe Corrigan had two singles, a double and three runs batted in. Arden Pabst had two run-scoring singles.
"When the offense does that well, it's real easy to go out there, throw strikes and pitch to contact and have a lot of fun," Cuse said.
Now Harvard-Westlake (25-4) gets to send ace Jack Flaherty (11-0) to the mound Friday in a quarterfinal game against Santa Margarita. If Flaherty delivers, Cuse will be back Tuesday at pitching-friendly Blair Field in Long Beach for the semifinals.
"We always have confidence in Conor," Corrigan said. "He's proven to us and to himself that he can have success at this level. I don't think any team is too good for him to get a victory against."
In other games, Riverside Poly got three hits from Matthew Ybarra to defeat Huntington Beach, 3-2. Loyola received a complete game from Nathan Hadley to defeat Lakewood, 6-3. Tyler Cohen had a three-run home run and Albee Weiss had a two-run home run in Agoura's 9-4 win over Trabuco Hills.
Huntington Beach Marina defeated Thousand Oaks, 11-4. Casey Hayes and Jake Bauers each hit two-run home runs. Los Alamitos rallied from a three-run deficit to defeat Chaminade, 4-3. Ryan Kayoda struck out six and walked none in El Toro's 8-0 win over Moorpark.
And, in the most dramatic ending of the day, Josh Meyer hit a walk-off home run in the eighth inning to give Santa Margarita a 3-2 win over Fountain Valley. It was his fourth hit of the game. Griffin Canning threw a complete game to outduel Monty Plattner.
The matchups for Friday's quarterfinals: Riverside Poly vs. Loyola, Agoura vs. Huntington Beach Marina, Harvard-Westlake vs. Santa Margarita and El Toro vs. Los Alamitos.