CITY SECTION 4-A DIVISION BASEBALL CHAMIONSHIP : In the Groove for 18 Years : Titles: Chatsworth or El Camino Real will extend the Valley’s long-playing record of City baseball championships.
For 18 years, Valley teams have made an extended Victory Tour out of the City Section 4-A Division baseball final. And the smash hits keep coming, as fresh and exhilarating as ever, live from Dodger Stadium.
It has been a different band of Valley ballplayers every year since 1973, but they never miss a beat. They usually provide heavy metal and rap but some years deliver only soft pop. Good old country hardball is often part of the set.
The only certainty is the encore, a spirited rendition of “We Are the Champions.”
Either El Camino Real or Chatsworth will pick up the chorus tonight.
A look at the previous 17 championships, accompanied by hit songs that help bring back memories of each year:
1973: Sylmar 3, Kennedy 2
LIVING FOR THE CITY (Stevie Wonder): Sylmar was down to its last gasp. Kennedy, which had defeated the Spartans three times in the regular season, led, 2-1, with two out in the seventh, no one on base and two strikes on pinch-hitter Gary Lawrence.
Lawrence drew a walk, however, and pinch-runner Dale O’Brien stole second. Chuck Lyon drilled the next pitch into right-center to force extra innings.
Meanwhile, John Syers’ arm was dying. The Sylmar pitcher had won all three previous playoff games in relief, and he went all the way in the final. “He was telling us in the dugout, ‘Guys, score some runs because I’m not going to make it much longer,” recalled Lyon, Sylmar’s center fielder.
Upstart Kennedy, in only its second year of existence, was riding the arm of pitcher Jeff Jens and the glove of shortstop Jim Anderson, who went on to play for the California Angels. Jens tired before Syers, however, and Rich Kochie’s run-scoring single in the ninth won it for Sylmar.
1974: Monroe 9, Taft 8
DIAMOND DOGS (David Bowie): As he had with his City champion 1971 team, Monroe Coach Denny Holt took a collection of mangy mongrels and turned them into a fierce pack of win-hungry wolves. They had no fear of favored Taft, which had future major leaguer Kelly Paris at shortstop and fireballing Dave Aronow on the mound.
“Monroe had no huge stars, but they were fundamentally sound. They did not make mistakes,” recalled Harry Frum, Monroe’s football coach at the time.
Aronow had pitched a no-hitter in the quarterfinals but he could not hold down a Monroe lineup that included All-City catcher Roger Slater, shortstop Don Kuhnhoff and outfielder Keith Walker.
1975: Granada Hills 4,
NEW KID IN TOWN (Eagles): Coach Darryl Stroh won his first of five championships in bold fashion. Squeeze bunts with two strikes tied the score in the sixth and won the game in the eighth.
“With two strikes, your average drops 100 to 150 points, but our guys could bunt eight out of 10,” Stroh reasoned.
Duane Rice, who scored or drove in all four Granada Hills runs, laid down the squeeze in the sixth and opened the eighth with a single.
Carlos Fuentes followed with a bunt single, Dave Schmidt (now with the Montreal Expos) advanced the runners with a sacrifice bunt and, after an intentional walk to Pat Rubino, Bill Douglas executed the winning squeeze.
1976: Granada Hills 2, Monroe 1
BACK IN THE SADDLE (Aerosmith): Dave Cicero pitched a two-hitter to outduel Scott Olshane and give Granada Hills its second title in a row. It was no sure thing.
The Highlanders began the season 1-6 before winning eight in a row to qualify for the playoffs. “We squeaked in,” Stroh said.
Olshane gave Monroe a tremendous performance, but a two-run single by second baseman Ron Oddo in the fourth inning was all the cushion Cicero needed.
1977: Cleveland 5, Carson 4
NIGHT MOVES (Bob Seger): The score was tied, 4-4, in the bottom of the seventh and Cleveland’s Paul Romero hesitated rounding third. There had been a passed ball with Romero on second, and, realizing the distance from the backstop to home plate, Coach Dave Preciado frantically waved Romero home.
The pitcher covered the plate and caught the throw before Romero got there. There was a collision . . .
Good thing for Cleveland that Romero was a 5-foot-9, 197-pound catcher who had been an All-City linebacker.
“He made a headfirst rolling block,” recalled Marty Siegel, a Cleveland assistant. “The ball was lying on the ground and the umpire called him safe.”
Nine of the 13 Cleveland players also were members of the football team that had been demolished by Banning, 34-0, in the City 4-A final the previous fall. “Our idea was, we blew the football title, but we won’t blow the baseball title,” Siegel said. “That determination made the difference.”
1978: Granada Hills 4, Poly 2
RUNNING ON EMPTY (Jackson Browne): Poly (23-2) was unable to use ace Matt Elser (13-0), who had pitched a complete game two days earlier in the semifinals. Granada Hills (21-1) had more depth--nine Highlanders went on to play college or professional ball.
Stroh gave the start to Mike DiGiacomo, an excellent control pitcher, because he had pitched a no-hitter against Poly earlier in the season. “He had elbow problems, though, and just gutted it out,” Stroh said.
Poly loaded the bases in the sixth but a sharp ground ball by Randy Ebersberger was flagged by third baseman Bernie Forbes, who stepped on third and threw home in the dirt. Catcher Jim Tognozzi dug the ball out and applied the tag for a double play.
1979: Granada Hills 10,
STOP YOUR SOBBING (Pretenders): There sat Crenshaw pitcher Darryl Strawberry, red-faced from slipping while fielding a squeeze bunt. “While he laid there pounding his glove on the ground, our runner from second scored too,” recalled Stroh, who secured his fourth City title in five years.
Highlander starter John Stevens appeared to run out of gas in the third inning, and when he visited the mound, Stroh could not avoid the glare of his third baseman, John Elway.
“John gave me a look like, ‘What are you waiting for?’ ” Stroh recalled.
Elway had not pitched since an early-season outing in which he walked six and hit three batters. Yet he allowed Crenshaw only two hits the rest of the way and struck out future major leaguer Chris Brown for the final out.
1980: Sylmar 6,
North Hollywood 2
HUNGRY HEART (Bruce Springsteen): A group of Sylmar players who had advanced to the Pony League World Series four years earlier combined to win a championship in their final year together. The Sylmar coach, Denny Thompson, had played in the same youth league--Sylmar Independent--as had most of his players.
Jeff Salazar did the pitching--hurling a three-hitter--and Oscar Mejia did the hitting--going three for four.
1981: Kennedy 4, Banning 2
START ME UP (Rolling Stones): Like so many pitchers in the City playoffs, Kennedy’s Jeff Wetherby was virtually spent by the time the team reached the final. Still, coaxed on by catcher Phil Lombardi, Wetherby allowed only one hit before his control gave out in the sixth.
Coach Don Tamburro brought on Jack McDonnell, a seldom-used pitcher, to save Wetherby’s victory and give Kennedy its first championship.
1982: Cleveland 13, Palisades 0
FREEZE-FRAME (J. Geils): Tom Brandt is finally off the hook. All these years the Cleveland second baseman has been saddled with the indignity of ruining Bret Saberhagen’s perfect game by committing a first-inning error that allowed the only Palisades batter to reach base.
Actually, Brandt preserved the no-hitter with the play, diving to his left to smother the ground ball and making a throw to first in time for the out. First baseman Mark Markland, however, dropped the throw. “Markland said in the dugout, ‘Coach, I just missed it,’ ” recalled Leo Castro, the Cleveland coach. “For some reason, the official scorekeeper gave the error to Brandt.”
Two defensive gems were needed later in the game. The first batter in the seventh smacked a ground ball to the right of left-handed John La Rosa, who had replaced the right-handed Markland at first. La Rosa dived to stop the ball and threw to Saberhagen covering the bag.
“Putting La Rosa in there looked like a genius move but actually I was just emptying the bench,” Castro said.
The next batter laid down a bunt. Catcher Glenn Newhouse pounced on the ball and threw out the runner by a step. “That was the play of the game,” Castro said.
1983: Chatsworth 8, Sylmar 7
SWEET DREAMS (ARE MADE OF THIS) (Eurythmics): Chatsworth was carried to the final on the arms of pitchers Keith Nicholson and Steve Reed. Two-run doubles by Pete Kuld and Nicholson staked Chatsworth to a big lead, but Sylmar rallied from an 8-2 deficit against Nicholson.
The Spartans closed to 8-7 on a double by Dana Ridenour in the fifth before Chatsworth Coach Bob Lofrano summoned Reed with two out. “He shut the door,” Lofrano recalled.
Reed, who had 29 saves last year in the Class-A Midwest League, retired seven of the nine batters he faced to preserve the win.
1984: Granada Hills 15,
El Camino Real 4
JUMP (Van Halen): The Highlanders won their fifth title under Stroh and set a championship-game record for runs. Four sophomores--Greg Fowble, Dan Takahashi, Rob Tosti and Bob Allen--played major roles.
Frank Halcovich and Fred Riscen alternated between pitcher and right field all year. Halcovich started the final but struggled early and gave way to Riscen.
“We had a lot of hits,” Stroh recalled. “It was a big night.”
1985: Kennedy 10, Banning 9
DON’T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME (Simple Minds): Kevin Farlow, a Kennedy sophomore, provided one of the most memorable finishes by smacking a two-out home run barely inside the left-field foul pole with two out in the bottom of the seventh.
“He hit it high, so we weren’t sure if it was going out,” recalled Dick Whitney, the Kennedy coach. A bases-loaded double by George Gonzalez gave Kennedy a 6-1 lead in the second inning. Banning pecked away, however, and the Golden Cougars needed a gutty relief effort from Sandy Sreden to set the stage for Farlow.
1986: Grant 5, Granada Hills 1
ON MY OWN (Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald): Grant right-hander Rodney Beck turned the final into his personal showcase, pitching a three-hitter and striking out seven. “We couldn’t hit that slider on the outside corner,” Stroh said.
Beck’s effort spoiled the last game for a talented group of Granada Hills seniors who had won the title as sophomores. Stroh said the Highlanders attempted six squeeze bunts but executed only one successfully.
1987: Canoga Park 5, Poly 4
DON’T GIVE UP (Peter Gabriel): In his 37th and last season, Coach Doug MacKenzie posted his first championship and his 300th career victory in the same game.
The Hunters survived a three-run home run by Danny Gil with one out in the seventh. Mike Roberts relieved Adam Schulhofer after the homer and, after striking out a batter, allowed consecutive singles to Luis Garcia and Rodrigo Fuentes. Roberts finally recorded a strikeout to end the game.
“I was awfully scared,” MacKenzie said.
A home run by Mike Kerber, triples by Mike Urman and Kasey Fink, and a double by Schulhofer were the big Canoga Park hits.
“We did it for ourselves, of course, but in the end we did it for Mac,” Urman said.
1988: Monroe 3, San Fernando 2
DESIRE (U2): Monroe became an improbable champion after going 5-10 in league play. “Monroe was like a fairy tale,” San Fernando Coach Steve Marden said.
Sophomore Sean Henson struck out 10 for the Vikings and Tim Costic doubled home Joey Marquis with the winning run in the top of the seventh.
In the bottom of the seventh, Albert Torres reached base and stole second with two out. A line drive down the left-field line by Richard Ortiz landed a few inches foul and two pitches later, he popped to third.
1989: Kennedy 4, Palisades 3
BUSTA MOVE (Young M.C.): A weary Mitch Cizek gallantly went the distance for Kennedy just two days after pitching the final four innings of the semifinal and eight days after slicing an artery in his forearm trying to open a window.
Cizek surrendered a ground-rule double with two out in the seventh but retired the next batter. “I thought he would fall,” Palisades Coach Russ Howard said. “He seemed like he was teetering.”
Instead, Palisades fell, giving a Valley team a City championship for the 17th consecutive season.