The late and greatly admired John Wooden, affectionately known as Coach, not only lived but also wrote the definitive book on success.
He stated, “Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”
The Culver City High baseball team respectively began to defend its Ocean League title with a two-game sweep of Beverly Hills, a 5-0 shutout in their home opener on Tuesday and a 7-4 victory in 10 innings Thursday at La Cienega Park, Beverly’s home field.
The wind was blustery and apparently had an early affect Tuesday as the Centaurs scored five runs against the Normans in the bottom of the first inning and never looked back.
Hitting Coach Sterling Roux explained, “It started off that their pitcher was always behind in the count. So that’s what we’re working on, knowing when to expect a certain pitch and looking for that pitch.”
Culver catcher Daniel Hennessy, who caught the combined shutout for starter Jay Sterner and reliever Louie Ortega, pointed out, “When we come out in the first inning and score five runs like that it just takes the wind out of them. It’s just mentally tough.
“Their pitcher started off slow. We could tell he wasn’t settled and ready to go.”
It turns out that those were the only runs scored in the entire game for either team. Sterner had another effective outing, allowing no runs, two hits while getting four strikeouts. Coach Rick Prieto visited the mound in the third when Beverly put two runners on with two outs.
Hennessy revealed, “The umpire wasn’t giving us too much of the outside so we had to bring it in a little bit. That’s what Coach was saying, “Be a bit more aggressive with your spots and them jam them on the last pitch.”
Sterner ended the threat by getting the Norman’s cleanup hitter to fly out to center.
Ortega came in for the last two innings and got the save with some defensive help. Coach Roux observed, “Jonathan Im, the left-fielder, he did a tremendous job on two balls hit out there. We’re coming along with the defense. We’ve got a team to win this league and Coach Prieto has done a tremendous job in the preparing. There’s nothing we don’t practice that doesn’t happen in the game.”
Culver City visited Beverly Hills two days later. It was a nail-biter before the Centaurs prevailed.
Prieto, the one his players also affectionately call Coach, described the tension-filled match, “We played 10 strong innings. Both teams played excellent baseball. We just happened to get the better end of it in the tenth. It was a great win for our boys. They know I’m proud of them.”
“The tenth was the big inning. Hennessy started with a double off the centerfield wall. Then they walked Tim. We sacrificed a batter who bunted right back to the pitcher who threw to third for the out.”
“So I’m at the bottom of the lineup. I’m putting a hit and run on. The pitch was up in the eye level but Kelvin Murillo swung. And it just got out of the catcher’s sight. The ball’s in the air and I’m not even telling Tim to slide. I’m sending him home. Now we take the lead and then score two more runs.”
Nate Matthews, who started the game, after five I pulled him, brought in Eli and he only pitched to four batters. I had to pull him but I had Lou already hot. Lou came in and shut them down for 2 1/3 innings.
“But he said, “Coach, I’m done.” I go, “Nate, can you come back out for me?” He’d only thrown 53 pitches. I had him warming up in the pen just playing catch. So it all worked out.
“We’re up three in the tenth and we make a routine groundball error. They get a base hit. This is where Murillo, our third baseman, with runners on first and second, no outs, a shot hit to his left, is fully sprawled out. I mean he was so sprawled he actually slid about a foot with the ball in his glove. Now it’s either bases loaded, no outs or a run. But from his behind he threw it to second base for the force out.
“We teach that, “You’re not going to get a double play here because you’re sprawled out. Always get the lead.” And he did. Freshman to freshman. Unbelievable. ESPN number one if this is the Big Leagues. I wish it was on video. “K” on a nice slider. “F-8”. Game over. How sweet was that with two runners on, no outs. That’s why these guys are so good defensively. We work on these plays.”
Coach Wooden would be proud.