When Chatsworth High's baseball team was 23-0 and ranked No. 1 in the state, the Chancellors exuded an aura of invincibility.
Then came a two-week period in which losses to Birmingham and Granada Hills caused some to wonder if Chatsworth was no better than an average team.
After sending out conflicting signals, the top-seeded Chancellors (30-2) enter the City Championship game at 7:30 tonight at Dodger Stadium determined to leave their mark.
"These guys practice hard and play hard," Coach Tom Meusborn said. "They're not the most talented but they could be my best team."
Standing in the way is Roosevelt (23-8-1). The No. 15-seeded Roughriders are trying to become the lowest-seeded team to win the City Championship since Monroe (13-16) qualified as a wild-card entry in 1988 and was seeded No. 15.
"We expect it to be a very tough game," Meusborn said. "They're a hot team."
Meusborn's Chatsworth teams have won 10 league championships in 12 years but are only 2-3 in championship games at Dodger Stadium.
This time, he has the City's most successful pitcher in junior left-hander Joe Guntz, who has hurled consecutive shutouts in the playoffs and is 24-0 in two seasons as a varsity pitcher.
Pitching and defense have been Chatsworth strengths all season. The Chancellors have allowed one run in three playoff victories. They are 9-0 in one-run games. Shortstop Ryan Barba and second baseman Gregg Wallis have made just five and four errors, respectively, this season.
Chatsworth's experience and defense could be critical playing in the vast confines of Dodger Stadium.
Balls thrown in the dirt toward first base usually end up in the dugout. Balls thrown in the dirt at home plate frequently roll to the backstop.
For Chatsworth, senior catcher Danny Dominguez has been an important contributor to the team's pitching success.
Guntz thrives on having Dominguez catch his curveballs. Chatsworth struggled when Dominguez missed eight games because of an ankle injury but is unbeaten with him in the lineup.
Roosevelt is not a typical No. 15-seeded team. Coach Scott Pearson was initially furious about the Roughriders' seeding, decided by the City Section's eight league champions.
"The seeding meeting was a joke," he said. "My blood was boiling."
The Roughriders finished second to South Gate in the Eastern League but were given little respect.
Roosevelt upset No. 2-seeded Kennedy, 5-3, in the first round, then defeated No. 7 Granada Hills and No. 6 Poly.
"They've beaten three very good teams," Meusborn said.
Chatsworth's major challenge will be dealing with senior right-hander Joram Iboa (8-2), who is expected to be selected in this week's amateur draft.
Iboa throws an 89 mph fastball and is familiar with Dodger Stadium, having already pitched there twice in tournament games.
For Roosevelt to win, the Roughriders need strong defensive performances from two sophomores: shortstop Edgar Sedano and catcher Art Gonzalez. They'll be playing key positions where routine plays at Dodger Stadium can turn into disaster.
Valley teams have won 27 of the last 28 City Championships. If Chatsworth wins, it will become the first Valley team since Granada Hills in 1975 to win the title without beating another Valley team in the playoffs.
Roosevelt is the first inner-city team to reach the final since Crenshaw in 1979.
In the City Invitational final today, Cleveland (22-11) plays Eagle Rock (16-9) at 4 p.m. at Dodger Stadium.