As El Camino Real pitcher Matt Malconian stood on the third-base line at Dodger Stadium receiving hugs from teammates, signs of euphoria and a sense of accomplishment lit up his smiling face.
He contributed 3 2/3 shutout innings of relief in the Conquistadors' 4-3 victory over Reseda Cleveland in the City Section Division I championship game.
"Right there is my favorite place in the entire planet — the Dodger Stadium pitcher's mound," Malconian said. It can't get any better than that."
On a picture perfect Saturday afternoon, Malconian's ability to work out of pressure-filled situations enabled top-seeded El Camino Real (27-7) to win its eighth City title and fourth one-run game of the playoffs.
"He's been amazing all playoffs," catcher Eric Yang said.
Two saves and a win during the playoffs made Malconian El Camino Real's secret weapon. He was the No. 3 pitcher behind standouts Jeremy Polon and Jordan Berg, Saturday's starter, but he had become so effective by season's end that El Camino Real Coach Josh Lienhard went to him with one out in the fourth and a runner on second of a 4-3 game. He got out of the jam, aided by a Jake Baer catch of a soft line drive
In the sixth, the Cavaliers (24-12) had runners on second and third with one out. Malconian struck out the next two batters. In the seventh, Chris Gonzalez drew a two-out walk, but Malconian got Raudel Martinez to pop out to first baseman Jake Selco to end the game.
What a high school journey it has been for Malconian. He tried out his freshman year at El Camino Real as a first baseman and got cut. He asked for a second chance as a pitcher but didn't make varsity until this season, his senior year.
"It shows you can never give up," he said. "I love the game. I love being part of it. I love my team."
Cleveland received a gutsy pitching performance from sophomore Sam Villa, who threw six innings on two days rest after saving Wednesday's semifinal win. He struck out three, walked none and shut out the Conquistadors after the second inning.
"He's an All-City player," Cleveland Coach Scott Drootin said.
Ben Kaser of Cleveland and Dylan Hirsch of El Camino Real each had three hits.
The problem for El Camino Real opponents this season has been trying to find a way to topple the Conquistadors in close games. The won their playoff opener, 1-0, over Verdugo Hills. They won their quarterfinal game, 4-3, over Birmingham. They won their semifinal, 3-2, over Narbonne.
"It shows how much we fight," Yang said.
It was the 42nd time in 43 seasons that a San Fernando Valley team has won the Division I title. And El Camino Real returns eight starters for 2016.