Four months ago, when the baseball season began, it seemed like the spirited thing to do. Each Chatsworth High player scribbled an inspirational phrase on the underside of the bill of his cap.
Wednesday night, on a raucous bus ride home from the City Section 4-A Division final at Dodger Stadium, the hats were tipped.
"Guys were flipping hats everywhere," Coach Tom Meusborn said. "They all had little sayings on them. Stuff like, 'Just Win,' or 'Play Like Champions.' "
One seemed especially apropos.
It read: "Play Seven Innings."
After playing around for five innings, Chatsworth scored once in the sixth and rallied for two more in the bottom of the seventh to defeat favored El Camino Real, 3-2. Chatsworth earned its first title since 1983 and became the fourth team in a row to win the 4-A championship by one run.
" 'Play Seven Innings' about sums it up," Chatsworth's Reed McMackin said.
For five innings, Chatsworth (24-5-1) was in some kind of trouble. Facing right-hander Pat Treend, who entered the game with a 12-0 record that included a victory and a save over Chatsworth, the Chancellors did little but spin their wheels.
Treend, in fact, was within five outs of recording the first shutout in a championship game since Cleveland's Bret Saberhagen threw a no-hitter in a 13-0 win over Palisades in 1982. El Camino Real, however, blew several scoring opportunities and led by a thread, 2-0, through five innings.
Then, quite literally, things got wild.
Chatsworth took advantage of Treend's wildness to score a run in the sixth. Treend, who had yielded just three hits entering the sixth, issued three consecutive walks with one out, throwing 10 balls in a row in one stretch. With the bases loaded, Adam Pearlman singled to center to drive in a run. Meusborn, coaching from the third-base box, also waved Tommy Lee home from second.
"I kind of expected him to," Lee said. "We had to try and take advantage of it. I guess they made a perfect throw."
Center fielder Jeff Marks gunned down Lee for the second out and Treend then retired Scott Carpenter to preserve a 2-1 lead. It seemed to have derailed Chatsworth's momentum.
"My feeling at the time was that we had hardly any opportunities to score," Meusborn said. "Treend had just kept us in check all game. I think we'd hit two balls hard all night. Then Marks makes a great throw and it's, 'Oh, no.' "
For Lee and Meusborn, however, there would be redemption.
In the seventh, Treend walked Rodney Bloom to open the inning. Nestor Martinez's sacrifice bunt was fielded cleanly by Treend, but the pitcher fired late to second and both runners were safe. And if it works once. . . .
Mike Mancuso pushed another bunt down the line at first and Treend's throw to second baseman Herman Merchan covering at first was dropped for an error--the first by either team.
On the error, Bloom scored to tie it, 2-2, and Martinez moved to third. Mancuso moved to second on pitcher's indifference when Treend elected to hold the ball as Mancuso strolled to second. After catching Mitch Root's soft liner for the first out, Treend intentionally walked McMackin--who after the game was selected the most valuable player of the 4-A playoffs--to load the bases.
Up strode Lee, who laid down a suicide squeeze on the first pitch to drive in Martinez. It was another aggressive call by Meusborn, considering that Treend had not exactly been grooving pitches into the strike zone for some time.
"It was a fastball up and away," said Lee, adding that he saw Martinez motoring down the line out of the corner of his eye. "I just wanted to get it down or get a piece of it."
McMackin, watching from first, was stunned.
"I missed the sign," he said. "I was standing there playing with my batting glove or something. I saw Nestor take off and I thought, 'My gosh, here he comes.' "
McMackin said Chatsworth attempted a suicide squeeze once previously this season, in a tournament game during spring break. In that game, as McMackin broke from third, Lee fouled off the pitch.
Nice time to reload. Apparently, though, Meusborn wasn't the only one thinking along the same lines. El Camino Real Coach Mike Maio, yelling from the first-base dugout, exhorted his team to watch for the squeeze as Lee stepped in.
Lee's bunt was fielded by El Camino Real first baseman Ryan McGuire, but Martinez crossed the plate before a charging McGuire could get the ball out of his glove. McGuire then punted the ball into the stands above the El Camino Real dugout.
"It was amazing how we won that game," McMackin said. "But that's the way we've played all year. Scratch for a couple of runs and let the pitchers keep us close.
"Coach is a gutsy guy. We hadn't tested them all game. We had to test them, we had to make them make some plays."
El Camino Real (21-3-1) tested McMackin early. The Conquistadores loaded the bases in the first inning, but McMackin retired Greg Lederman--who stepped in with five hits in three playoff games and team-high .493 average--on a double-play grounder to second.
"You send Treend to the hill with a lead before he's even thrown the ball and he's tough to beat," Meusborn said. "Heck, he hadn't been beaten all year ."
Leading, 1-0, El Camino Real wasted a chance in the fifth. With runners at first and second and two out, Lederman delivered a hard single to right field. Carpenter fired a rocket to catcher Mancuso to easily nail McGuire, who ignored a stop sign as he rounded third.
"I was getting around the bases pretty fast," McGuire said. "I kind of get bullheaded at times, but hindsight is 20-20.
"We accomplished a lot. It's something to be looked at favorably. Losing hurts bad, I'm not going to say it doesn't. We gave it our best and got beat by a good team."
Hats off to Chatsworth. And all aboard the magic bus.
"It was a fun drive home," Meusborn said. "I remember when Reed flipped me his hat. 'It said something like, 'Play like City champions.' "