It's been more than a week now, but those in and around the Beckman High baseball team are still basking in the glow of a CIF championship.
Beckman beat Pacific Coast League rival Woodbridge, 4-1, at Dodger Stadium on June 2 to win the CIF Southern Section Division III title, followed immediately by the obligatory pile of bodies in the middle of the infield.
Beckman finished the season at 25-6 overall and 13-2 in league, and ranked 24th in California by Cal-Hi Sports. But what made the season so special for the Patriots was the process, and enduring the day-to-day grind of the season.
"A lot of it is bittersweet, especially for me because I'm a senior," said designated hitter Robert Solby. "We worked so hard, starting the minute we lost in the quarterfinals to Ocean View last year. This is the culmination of all that work. It's exciting and a relief to be at the top, but also a little bit sad because I know it's over."
The victory over Woodbridge was typical of Beckman's season. They rode the right arm of starting pitcher James Kaprielian, who threw a complete-game four-hitter, and played their offensive game of getting guys on and moving runners over.
But the big blow of the game was Zack Rivera's two-run home run in the first inning, a drive just inside the left-field foul pole.
"After that home run there was a gigantic exhale from everybody," Beckman coach Kevin Lavelle said. "You could see it in their body language at that point. Even James pitched better after that. It was proof that we were a better team than them."
Beckman, though, didn't need the home run for that. They had played Woodbridge four times previously, winning three. Kaprielian won two of those games, including a one-hit shutout.
"In a one-game situation you really have to play your best, and I don't think we did that day," said Woodbridge coach Tim Murray, whose team finished the season 19-12. "In a high school baseball game against their No. 1 pitcher, and all-county kid, you have to be at your best."
Woodbridge made a couple of errors, but got a good performance on the mound from Ben Wylly, who gave up only one earned run and three hits in five innings. But he couldn't match the performance of Kaprielian, who finished his junior season going 11-1 with a 1.09 earned-run average.
Kaprielian struck out seven and did not walk a batter, showing the command of all his pitches that he had shown throughout the season. Kaprielian walked only nine batters all season, which included a stretch of facing 121 consecutive hitters without a walk.
Having faced Woodbridge twice previously during the season, he said he wanted to "bring a little more to the table" in the title game, but it was more about his approach.
"At the beginning of the season I'd fall behind in the count and let a guy go," he said. "My body language would lag a little bit. But by the time we were in Dodger Stadium, I had learned from my mistakes. Even if I fell behind 3-0 in the count, I'd still try to get a ground ball and let my defense help me out. If I let a guy get on first base, I'd try to get a double play."
Kaprielian said he also learned a lot from his only loss of the season, also his only loss of his high school career. In a tournament game on April 6 vs. Hart High, Kaprielian pitched in relief and blew a 2-0 lead in what became an ugly 9-3 loss.
"Quite honestly, I was not 100%," Kaprielian said. "Physically I was fine, but not mentally. I learned I needed to be ready for anything. [Starting pitcher] Chad Reiser did a fantastic job, and it wasn't fair to him or the team."
The loss to Hart was the second loss in a three-game losing streak for Beckman, almost unthinkable for the Patriots — it was Beckman's first three-game losing streak since 2008. And while it was a low point of the season, it was also the turning point according to Lavelle.
"Looking back it was the best thing that happened to us," Lavelle said. "It made me and the coaching staff look at things and how we handled things. It changed the way we practiced. We made a list of things we were good at and a list of things we needed to improve and said 'Here's how we're going to win games.' … After the Northwood loss (the third of the three) we had two of the best practices we've ever had."
Specifically, Lavelle said the offense needed an identity, which would focus on the small ball approach of getting the leadoff batter on base, bunting him over and driving him in.
"Small ball is what people call it, but small ball works anywhere you play, whether it's Dodger Stadium or Montebello High, where it's 230 feet to right field with a 40-foot fence," Lavelle said. "High school teams have trouble defending small ball."
Rivera's home run got the Patriots started in the title game, but they still played their game with a sacrifice fly and three sacrifice bunts. The game finally ended on a line drive out to second baseman Ricky Navarro.
"I really didn't think about winning CIF the whole game because you're just going pitch by pitch," Lavelle said. "But when James got a strikeout for the second out [of the last inning], in my mind I said, 'Oh my God, it's going to happen.' When that line drive went into Ricky's glove, I can't explain it. It was just a feeling of joy and relief. And it feels just as fresh now as the day it happened."