From CIF to Hall of Fame

Scrapbooks have recently been pulled out of drawers, boxes and closets. Memories suddenly begin to flow from what has proved to be the pinnacle moment for the Crescenta Valley High softball program.

Recollections pour out from the 1986 season, when Crescenta Valley Coach Dan Berry piloted the Falcons to the CIF Southern Section Division III-A championship. Certain at-bats, pitches, defensive plays and pregame speeches from each of the five postseason contests have been recalled as if they happened yesterday.

After starting the softball team from scratch in 1983, Berry nurtured a splendid core of players who would serve as catalysts for the program's first and only championship three seasons later. The Falcons found themselves at the top when they posted a 5-4 victory against top-seeded Woodbridge on May 30, 1986, at Mayfair Park in Lakewood.

Roughly a quarter-century later, the Falcons' major accomplishment will be celebrated again with the subsequent inductions of Berry and the team into the school's athletic hall of fame at 7 p.m. today at Angeles National Golf Club in Sunland. Berry will be honored posthumously after leading the Falcons to 20 Pacific League championships. Many of the players from the 1986 squad plan to attend today's ceremony.

"This will be a special time for a special team with a respected man in Mr. Berry being honored," said Landa (Temple) Jensen, who was a senior catcher. "He set the bar high and you knew what to expect.

"There was a mutual respect between him and the players and he was ahead of his time and has left a big legacy. I recently found my scrapbook and so many great memories have popped up. We had so many great players."

Many players from the 1986 team, which finished 24-4 and won its last 18 games, agreed that Berry, who died Oct. 26, 2011 at the age of 65, was the architect behind their championship.

"He instilled in us not to give up," said Lisa (Erickson) Tibbetts, who played third base. "When we played Woodbridge for the championship, we were playing a team that was so strong and we were this scrappy team from the foothills.

"He was like a pioneer of softball. He believed in us. He took us under his wings and those are the special moments that you can't forget. It's an honor to look back on what he did because he touched a lot of lives and opened up a lot of doors for us."

Krista (Miller) Hardin, a second baseman, said Berry laid the groundwork for the program to blossom.

"It got to the point in which things came together well for us and we were always in a position to succeed," said Hardin, a co-captain and one of five seniors on the championship squad that had been with the team since its inaugural season. "He went above and beyond to make us a strong team."

The path to the championship certainly wasn't easy, though it started that way. The Falcons opened with a 12-0 first-round victory against Culver City before posting a 9-4 win against South Hills.

Things became considerably tougher in the quarterfinals for the Falcons, who registered a 1-0 win in 13 innings against Garden Grove, which won the CIF crown in 1985. In a semifinal contest, Crescenta Valley got past Sonora, 1-0, to earn its shot at the CIF crown.

"It was almost surreal," Tibbetts said. "Now, we found ourselves going to the championship game."

Crescenta Valley and Woodbridge found themselves locked in a game full of suspense. Crescenta Valley held a 4-2 lead entering the bottom of the seventh inning. Woodbridge scored a pair of runs to tie it at 4 and had the winning run on third with one out before pitcher Heather Lindstrom got the Falcons out of the inning with a foul out and grounder.

Crescenta Valley wrestled the momentum away from Woodbridge in the eighth. Denise Hulst led off getting hit by a pitch and was forced out at second on a bunt by Kris Janitor. Kelly Ingram then bunted Janitor to second for the second out. Erickson then reached base on an error, moving Janitor to third before Leilani Artis drove in Janitor on an 0-1 pinch with an infield single to make it 5-4.

With Lindstrom back in the circle looking to preserve Crescenta Valley's lead, she got two quick outs before yielding a single. The right-hander then recorded a strikeout to secure the CIF championship.

"There was pure joy when we finally got that last out," said Hardin, one of the original five seniors along with Hulst, Tibbetts, Temple and Wendy Haines. "We had to fight back so hard to beat Woodbridge.

"So many things happened. I think years later, you appreciate it that much more."

Jenny Shaver Berry, Dan's second daughter, was the team's No. 2 pitcher in 1986. A freshman that season, the younger Berry said winning a championship with her dad guiding the team made it extra special.

"I remember right after we won, he gave me a big hug," she said. "That's one of my fondest memories and we did something that took a lot of hard work."

For the seven seniors — which also included Ingram and Tina Welty — on the team, it was their last as a Falcon. But for Berry, he was just getting started as it related to Crescenta Valley softball.

Under Berry, the Falcons went 570-117 overall (.829 winning percentage) and 240-25 in the Pacific League. He first coached at Crescenta Valley from 1983-94, going 250-41 overall and leading the Falcons to eight league championships. Berry sought an opportunity to move up to the next level in the coaching profession and accepted a head coaching position at L.A. Pierce College. From 1995-97, Berry led Pierce to two appearances in the state playoffs. Following the 1997 season, Berry was hired by L.A. Mission College to build its program similar to how he structured Crescenta Valley and restructured Pierce. However, Mission opted to cancel its new program and Berry returned to Crescenta Valley in 1998.

Berry, a multiple-time All-Area Coach of the Year, guided the Falcons to back-to-back undefeated league championships in 2008 and 2009. On May 2, 2008, Crescenta Valley posted a 23-1 league road win against Muir for Berry's 500th at Crescenta Valley. Under Berry, the Falcons won 20 games or more 20 times and went unbeaten in league eight times between 1998-2009.

"It's a recognition that's long overdue," said Peter Kim, the school's current girls' athletic director. "In my mind, he's been a hall of fame coach for years. Those players grew up with somebody who was like a second father. A lot of those players look back on the lessons they learned and how it's helped make them better people."

And, as the championship put a fitting conclusion upon an unforgettable 1986 season, tonight's induction for Berry alongside his most successful team will bring about one final glorious accolade in a career at Crescenta Valley brimming with them.

"It's been almost seven months since he died and being inducted into the hall of fame is kind of like closure for everybody," Shaver Berry said. "He played a huge role in our lives. It's a long time coming for him being inducted and I think he'd be smiling from ear to ear with the 1986 team and him going in."

charles.rich@latimes.com

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