Some time ago, the Crescenta Valley High baseball team hosted Huntington Beach in a CIF Southern Section first-round playoff game at Stengel Field.
It was contested at their park because the Falcons finished first in the Pacific League, while Huntington Beach placed third in the Sunset League.
When seven innings were played, it was clear the Falcons were no match for the Oilers.
What stood out was Huntington Beach used its third-string pitcher. In an opening-round match, most coaches would have opted to start their best hurler. When I conducted interviews afterward, the Oilers’ head man explained why he by-passed his two top pitchers.
He said Crescenta Valley wouldn’t be able to generate much offense, saying hits and runs would be hard to come by.
As it turned out, he was right on the money. Of course, he could have been mistaken and underestimated the Falcons.
The more I thought about what he was saying, it made all the sense in the world. The Falcons were the best of the bunch in a somewhat weak league. So when Crescenta Valley was beating down its opponents, Huntington Beach was facing stiffer competition.
A close loss in the ultra-tough Sunset League was as good as or even better than a victory in the Pacific League.
A similar example was demonstrated last season by the University of Connecticut men’s basketball team.
Prior to the NCAA tournament, the Huskies were primed for a long run based on their having played in the rugged Big East Conference. In fact, midway through the season, Connecticut wasn’t even the best team in the conference, but having faced high-end clubs toughened the Huskies to the point they were ready for whatever stood in front of them.
When the Huskies captured four straight and took the Big East tourney, national scribes said they were the squad to beat even if their overall record wasn’t that impressive. So when they dumped stubborn Butler for the title, no one was surprised.
The point can be explained further. Let’s say a big-league pitcher finishes 18-10 with a 4.00 earned-run average, while another hurler was 15-13 with a 2.75 ERA.
Who had the better season? Most would say the former, but it may be the latter if it’s shown the first pitcher won 12 games against teams under .500, while the second pitcher took a dozen games versus clubs above .500.