Getting a helping hand

All season long, Meredith Cervenka has been behind the scenes, calling the pitches La Cañada High pitcher Lauren O'Leary. In turn, the Spartans' hurler had no problem following Cervenka's game plan, which helped her shut down offenses during her senior season.

The three-year formula for success worked to perfection again on Friday, as O'Leary dominated Beaumont in the CIF Southern Section Division V championship game at Deanna Manning Stadium in Irvine. The Spartans' ace dominated when it mattered most — in the last five innings. She retired 15 of the last 16 batters she faced and set down the side in order in the third through sixth innings.

After effort helped the Spartans secure a 1-0 win, for the program's first CIF title in 16 years.

After the game, O'Leary credited Cervenka's pitch calling for her success on the field against Beaumont.

"They're a really good-hitting team, so we just wanted to mix it up," said O'Leary, who struck out eight and didn't issue a walk in the championship game. "It feels good to get it done."

Cervenka, a former area standout in the circle at Crescenta Valley High and a dominant pitcher for Long Beach State, said a key to O'Leary's performance was the one-run lead she got from Anna Edwards' solo home run in the third inning, which stood up.

"I felt her relax a little bit, I think we all did, after the one run," said Cervenka, adding that O'Leary succeeded because she hit her spots and mixed up the location of her pitches. "We just stuck with what the umpire was calling. They were struggling with her inside pitch, so we just went in, out and up and mixed the change in a little bit. We just had to keep them off balance — that was our goal."

It was three years ago when Cervenka joined the Spartans' coaching staff as a pitching instructor. Coming into this season, she was focused on the details with O'Leary because "she's already such a polished pitcher," Cervenka said. The pair worked on O'Leary's placement, approach to 0-2 counts and mental toughness — and t all paid off.

"[Cervenka] has helped refine all my mechanics," O'Leary said. "It's nice to have someone who watches you throw every day and knows your motion. She's had a huge part in our success. I think all the coaching staff and the entire team has had a huge part to play in it."

O'Leary finished her season with a 0.39 earned-run average, struck out 237 and walked 27. She started all but three games for the Spartans and had a win-loss record of 25-2 with 23 complete games and 16 shutouts. The ace also held batters to a .137 batting average and .187 on-base percentage.

"[O'Leary] has the movement and she relies on that," Cervenka said. "When you have that you don't have to throw hard … if you're keeping the batters off balance you're doing your job. She's very, very tough and that's come with years and made her the pitcher that she is."

As far as style goes, Cervenka labels O'Leary as a finesse pitcher, similar to the way she pitched at Crescenta Valley and Long Beach State. O'Leary received sound advice from someone who has enjoyed her share of success.

As a 49er, Cervenka earned the title of the Big West Conference Pitcher of the Year in 2003, 2004 and 2005. La Cañada Coach KC Mathews knows how much she brings to the table.

"When you have a Meredith Cervenka in your dugout calling pitches and working with your pitchers, it's priceless," Mathews said. "She's been through it. She thinks like a pitcher and knows what's going on. She's invaluable, absolutely invaluable and the girls are completely comfortable with her."

When O'Leary reaches the collegiate level, Cervenka knows she'll have an impact, much like she did in high school. She knows her work ethic will endear her to her teammates, like it has in high school.

"I feel great standing behind [O'Leary], I'll do anything for her," said Edwards, her teammate of four years. "If there's a base hit I'm doing anything I can to make sure I get to that … Whether we're up a run or down by 10 runs, she wants to do as good as she possibly can."

Cervenka is a resource to more than just O'Leary, though. The entire team is comfortable with her and her track record but dominating at the college level carries plenty of weight. Her experiences in NCAA competition has put her in position to give advice to players headed to the next level, like O'Leary (Georgetown University) and Edwards (Northwestern University).

"Those girls are going to be awesome in college, I don't worry about them at all," Cervenka said. "It's fun to talk to those girls who are going to go through what I went through."

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