Next: Showdown With Santa Monica
Talent alone is not enough to make it to the Big Dance. It takes leadership, understanding, preparation, practice, patience and execution to secure such a date with destiny.
Defending Ocean League baseball champions Culver City High walked the walk once again by high-stepping Morningside High with two more league victories last week by scores of 16-0 and 11-1.
And this week, for the fourth year in a row, they will have faced arch rival Santa Monica in a two-game series for the league title, both touting 8-0 League records.
Centaur first baseman Juan Alcala, a senior, spoke about not getting complacent in the team’s quest to repeat as champs.
“Although we knew Morningside wasn’t one of the stronger teams we still had to go out and play tough just like we would against any other team. So we had our minds in the game and were really focused.”
“Tuesday’s game, we had Jay Sterner starting and he threw strikes throughout the whole game. He actually had a perfect game until the bottom of the fifth.
"He threw a curveball for a called strikeout but the ball got away and the batter reached first. Still, he finished with a no-hitter. It was a nice pitching performance by him.”
Alcala had seven putouts at first and gave credit to his infield, “Our defense made excellent plays. They hit a ball right up the middle and our second baseman, Mike Netzel, made a diving play, got up on one knee and threw over to me.
"He and our third baseman Kelvin Murillo are both wonderful ballplayers. Last year Daniel Hennessy was our third baseman but he spent a lot of time with our coaches and he’s turned out to be a great catcher. Our shortstop, Darian Sylvester, I would say that he’s the captain of the infield. He gets us going by calling everything.”
Sylvester hit a two-run homer, senior centerfielder Tim Stewart scored three runs, had three hits including a triple and Hennessy scored three times to lead the offense. Again, the bottom half of the order was impressive as Max Akita, Moises Amador, Thomas Graham, David Ko and Junior Rodenbusch combined to get on base in 10 of the 12 times they went to bat. The game was called after five innings.
Thursday’s game at Culver City looked like a repeat performance but Alcala saw a difference, “We knew that our hitting performance wasn’t what we wanted on Tuesday. So we made the adjustments. Coach told us to treat them like top-of-the-line pitching.
"Scoot up a little in the box, have a middle-right approach and just aim for the gap. That’s what we practice all the time when he throws batting practice to us, just middle-right, middle-right. We hit line drives, hard shots. That game we finished 11-1. Our performance was better.”
Centaur senior Nate Matthews started the game and allowed only one walk through the first 11 batters. Eventually, an error and a fielder’s choice to short center gave Morningside Its only run in the two-game sweep.
Lightening struck twice on consecutive pitches for Culver in the bottom of the second. Jon Im, also a senior, worked his at-bat to a full count before hitting an inspiring shot over the left field fence and was enthusiastically greeted by his teammates.
On the next pitch Sylvester launched another one in the same spot over the wall for his second homer of the series. He also scored all four times he came to bat.
The first base work of Alcala showed its maturity as he again gathered seven putouts. “We have a one through nine system. Usually with the one and two batters we’ll play up because they usually have the most speed. Three, four, five, six: I’ll play back because usually they’re the power hitters. Seven, eight, nine: they’re the weaker hitters in the lineup so I’ll come in closer.
"From time to time Coach Prieto will tell me, “Two steps left. Two steps back. I want you playing in.” He has a great sense of where the ball’s going to be. He knows where to position me.”
Alcala offered his final thoughts on the Santa Monica rivalry: “We know we’re the two best teams in the Ocean League. When we go out and play a team that we know is going to be challenging it makes the game more serious. It gets our heads right.
'We’re all focused. The intensity of the practices shoot up. Our adrenaline gets going. We know that we have to step on the gas pedal. We can’t step off of it at any time because they’ll make us pay for it. We’re ready to play.”