DJ Vergini, the No. 3 pitcher for Birmingham High who had not made a single appearance in the playoffs, rescued his team Saturday at Dodger Stadium, bailing out the Patriots with 3 2/3 scoreless innings of relief in a 4-3 come-from-behind victory in the City Section Open Division championship game.
He got pinch hitter Brandon Escobar to fly out on a 3-and-2 pitch with two outs and two El Camino Real runners aboard to complete the comeback victory over the Conquistadores, who broke down defensively and failed to hold a 3-0 lead.
"We gave them the game," El Camino Real coach Josh Lienhard said.
Leading 3-1 in the bottom of the sixth, El Camino Real was forced to remove starting pitcher Adam Christopher because he had thrown 106 pitches. Jack Whisnant hit the first two batters he faced. In came Joey Klein, who threw away a bunt to score one run. Then pinch-hitter Andrew Acosta stroked a two-run single to left for Birmingham's first lead.
Vergini was routed by El Camino Real 15-5 in a West Valley League game earlier this season. Coach Matt Mowry ended up going with Albert Garcia and Armando Yanez as his top two pitchers. Vergini, though, knew he would be needed at some point and he delivered.
"My coach told me to settle down," Vergini said. "I was thinking, Let me throw a strike. Let me win it for my team."
The same goes for Acosta, who emerged as Birmingham's dependable pinch-hitter.
"Coach Mowry trusts me in those situations," he said. "I had to clutch up."
Having an ace pitcher no longer guarantees a City Section baseball championship. Changes in rules and when games are played have made it almost a requirement to have a top pitcher available to come out of the bullpen to save the day.
Eddie Rosales was that pitcher for Birmingham last season. Elan Filous and Matt Malconian were those pitchers for El Camino Real in 2016 and 2015 when the Conquistadores won City titles.
"In this kind of game, you have to have that depth in pitching," Mowry said.
Birmingham (26-10) won the first City title game played at Dodger Stadium in 1969, and 50 seasons later, the Patriots won their sixth City title.
Division I: Verdugo Hills wins first title
Center fielder Dakota Gray of Verdugo Hills dropped a fly ball in the fourth inning in the Division I championship game against Carson.
He went from embarrassment to exhilaration five innings later when he caught the final out with the bases loaded, and he also scored the go-ahead run in the Dons' 4-2, nine-inning victory for the first title in school history.
"I knew if I let my nerves get to me, I'd miss it," Gray said of the final fly ball. "It was quite a rush. I had to have short-term memory."
Verdugo Hills fell behind 2-1 in the fourth after the error, but the Dons tied it with two outs in the top of the seventh on an RBI single by Matt Gokey.
In the ninth, Gray singled and Charlie Rocca walked. Gray scored on a wild pitch and Rocca scored on a single from Alex Real.