Girls to square off in historic mound duel

LAKE BALBOA, Calif. -- When the lineup cards are handed in for this high school baseball game, something will be different.

The pitching matchup, come Saturday, between Marti Sementelli from Birmingham High School in Lake Balboa and Ghazaleh Sailors from San Marcos of Santa Barbara is sure to draw attention.

It is considered to be the first time two girls have started against each other in a high school baseball game in California, and, as far as anyone knows, the nation. And, even though both pitchers are going to see more time as relievers as the season progresses, the two girls will be making history when they take the mound in the San Fernando Valley, 20 minutes north of Los Angeles.

"I always wanted to be the one who breaks barriers," said Sailors, who grew up idolizing Jackie Robinson and remembers playing her first T-ball game when she was just 2 years old.

"I think the game'll be fun," said Tony Vanetti, the first-year baseball coach at San Marcos. "It'll be historical. I hope both the pitchers do well."

There were 1,012 girls playing baseball on high school teams in the United States in 2008, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. California had the most girls playing baseball with 385, but none of them faced each other as opposing pitchers.

Both girls are similar in a number of ways. They are both seniors and they were teammates on the United States national team that won the bronze medal in the World Cup of Women's Baseball in Venezuela over the summer.

"She throws about the same speed as me, has a changeup and a breaking ball," Sementelli said. "I have a couple more pitches than she does."

Sementelli pitched on the Birmingham varsity team in her junior season, winning one game in 25 innings of work. Sailors played on the junior varsity team at San Marcos last year. She was a second baseman and relief pitcher with a 2-2 record. This will be the first start for both pitchers this season.

Before Rob Crawford retired as coach of the San Marcos baseball team last year, he told Sailors she could start a game. Sailors wanted to start against Birmingham. The two teams played in 2010, but because Sailors was on the JV team all she could do was watch from the other field while Sementelli pitched a couple of innings in the varsity game.

Crawford wanted to schedule Birmingham as the first game of the season and start Sailors. As it turned out, Birmingham was slated for the second game of the year.

Sailors said she told Crawford she wanted a chance to pitch against Sementelli.

Crawford told her he couldn't control what Birmingham coach Matt Mowry was going to do, but Sailors was Crawford's starter for the second game of the season.

"It's still a baseball game," Sailors said. "I've been thinking about this game for a long time. Every time I play catch, I've been thinking about my game plan for the game."

It kind of handcuffed Vanetti though. He was all but obligated to start Sailors against Birmingham. The second game of the season began gaining more attention than the opening game against Oxnard. It got to the point where Vanetti refused to talk about the Birmingham game with anyone.

"I think they should be fine," Sailors said about her teammates as they prepare for the game against Birmingham. "It's like hitting off me. We played intersquad games. They know how we work."

Sementelli said she doesn't want her teammates to prepare for the game against San Marcos any differently.

"It's just like any other game. It's not that it's a girl they're facing," Sementelli said. "It's not any special game that we have to hit this pitcher harder than any other pitcher. We just have to [go] out like it's any normal game against San Marcos."

Sailors thinks of how she and Sementelli are following in the footsteps of Jackie Mitchell, a Chattanooga Lookouts pitcher who once struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in succession in a 1931 exhibition game.

"She really does know the game and she has good skills," said Vanetti, who says Sailors has earned the chance to start against Birmingham by putting in the hard work, and has the determination to face a varsity lineup.

"Obviously the deck's stacked against her," Vanetti said. "But she's worthy of all the accolades."

Mowry, the Birmingham coach, said Sementelli is treated no different than any other player on the baseball team. Not by the coaches and especially not by her teammates.

In the 17 years Mowry has coached baseball at Birmingham, Sementelli and Andy Parsons are the only two girls to make the varsity team. By comparison, there were two girls on the Birmingham football team in the fall.

Tim Haddock is a contributor to the high schools blog for ESPNLosAngeles.com, concentrating on northern Los Angeles County and surrounding areas.