Last Thursday night, at a non-descript little motel room on Santa Cruz’s Eastside, we couldn’t help but feel the hurt as we watched the small screen in front of us. On TV: the Lakers’ big four, Shaquille O’Neal, Gary Payton, Karl Malone, and Kobe Bryant exchanging chest bumps and high fives as they closed out Game 4 against the Minnesota T-Wolves. All of us knew the purple and gold wouldn’t be celebrating if three of those big four were missing.Which was exactly our case going into Game No. 6 — one away from the California Cup championship. Like the Lakers, Team Ventura enjoys the luxury of having four world-class performers running the table. Tom Curren (3-time ASP World Champion), Bobby Martinez (one of the world’s best surfers not on the WCT), Dane Reynolds (the world’s best 18-year old) and Tim Curran (WCT veteran) have been Ventura’s backbone throughout the California Cup. Now, the boys from the “805” were firing on just one cylinder (Bobby) in a crucial face-off that would decide whether we’d compete against a smug OC squad for the Cup. Win the Santa Cruz game, and we’re straight down to Huntington. Lose, and San Diego — who’d tie with us in wins/losses but beat us in total points — gets a shot at the title.”We have to be the Bad News Bears,” encouraged head coach Sean Hayes during our 5-hour drive up the coast to Santa Cruz. That’s exactly what we had to be. Santa Cruz was currently holding an 0-5 record (the only winless squad left in the cup), and they were desperately looking to save some face during their last May 28 game at “The Hook.”Despite our missing talent, we remained confident that the Derek Fishers and Devean Georges of the VC team would be able to fill the void. Hank Mills, Keoni Cuccia, Adam Virs, and Nathaniel “Nate Dogg” Curran have all put up some impressive numbers throughout the cup. Plus, it’s The Hook, not some lame beachbreak, and these guys thrive in lined-up walls. But anybody who is familiar with competitive surfing can testify that the ocean doesn’t always provide a consistent platform for performance. “I tell people that ‘The Game’ isn’t just like basketball or other sports,” said organizer, originator, and MC of “The Game” Brad Gerlach. “Sure, there’s four quarters and everything, but no other sport has a moving and disappearing goal.”For some reason, during Team VC’s four quarters, the goal spent a lot more time disappearing than moving. Long extended lulls left competitors frustrated and water coaches shivering, as the boys failed to break 40 in two of the four quarters. Santa Cruz didn’t quite have the same problem as they gave us a beating that Gerr compared to a “taking ’em out behind the woodshed” kind of beating. He wasn’t exaggerating. Team VC’s fourth-quarter anchors combined for a 25.5-point total, as the heat’s flatness only allowed each competitor to catch one scoring wave. Following VC’s 20-minute flat spell, the hometown boys paddled out to a flurry of endless lines. Josh Mulcoy drops an 8.25, Ratboy and Bud Freitas back him up with solid scores, and the boys wearing red dropped 50 points with ease, which left everyone wearing green shirts scratching their heads. The Cruz was not only able to get their first win of the season, but they simultaneously broke the Cup’s record for largest margin of victory (51 points) and the highest point total for one game (197.5). Kieran Horn nabbed the MVP award with two heats that individually beat our whole combined fourth-quarter score.Finishing the Cup 3-3, we were just shy of qualifying for the championship game. Coach Hayes remained optimistic as he gave the Green Machine a final team speech — lifted straight from Walter Matheau in “The Bad News Bears.” “You guys were all key players throughout this thing. It’s ‘The Game.’ And that means there’s always another chance next year.”— Dylan Slater, Ventura County Team Member