With the spring high school sports season canceled, prep columnist Eric Sondheimer is looking back on some of the most memorable championship games in Southern California history.
On the final day of May in 2013, Matt LaCour was at Dodger Stadium. His Harvard-Westlake baseball team was about to face Marina for the Southern Section Division 1 championship. His starting pitcher, Jack Flaherty, was walking in from the bullpen after warming up.
“The look in his eyes was, ‘They’re not getting anything tonight,’” LaCour said.
Flaherty put the final exclamation point on a junior season to remember, striking out eight, walking one and giving up six hits in a 1-0 victory. He also drove in the game’s only run.
“His entire junior year he was lights out,” LaCour said of the right-hander who went 13-0 with an 0.63 ERA. “He had been dominant for a long time. I was confident going in they weren’t going to get a lot of runs.”
There were also two major decisions made in the game that led to Harvard-Westlake’s first and only Division 1 baseball title. No. 1 was how the Wolverines would deal with Marina’s standout power hitter, Jake Bauers, who came in with 10 home runs.
“We weren’t going to let Jake Bauers beat us,” LaCour said. “Jake was kind of a phenom.”
Even more important was the decision to put sophomore Jackson Grayson into the game in left field as a defensive replacement in the seventh inning. Grayson had been coming in much of the season to play defense and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect, because it was his throw after a single with one out that allowed catcher Arden Pabst to place the tag on the runner trying to score from second for the second out of the inning.
“When they hit the ball to him, he was definitely our best outfield arm even though he was playing left field,” LaCour said. “There was probably an, ‘Oh, four-letter word’ in there somewhere, but once I saw the throw come out of his hand and we had Arden behind the plate, there was no way Arden was going to let him cross the plate.”
Flaherty gave up another single but a fielder’s choice resulted in the final out. “We didn’t need any more chances,” LaCour said. “Jack was going to shut the door.”
It wouldn’t be the last time Flaherty pitched at Dodger Stadium. He became a first-round draft choice of the St. Louis Cardinals and has become one of the best right-handers in pro baseball. Every time he comes to pitch at Dodger Stadium, he seems to excel.
“I think deep down Jack likes performing in front of people,” LaCour said. “Performing in front of family and friends, he relishes it.”
A year later, LaCour would retire from coaching to become athletic director, so Flaherty helped push LaCour to the sideline.
“If we don’t win that game, I probably keep going,” he said. “Jack put one of the final nails in the coffin.”