Big Win Inspires Culver Baseball Team

Last Saturday's bus drive out to Granada Hills in the hot San Fernando Valley to play the Kennedy High Cougars was the shot in the arm the Culver City High baseball team was looking for. The result, a classic, 2-1 extra-inning come from behind victory marks the critical turning point of the season for the Centaurs.

With the score tied 1-1 with one out in the top of the eighth inning Culver designated hitter Matt Rummelsburg took a lead off first base. At the plate Max Sterner worked to a full count before ripping a line shot triple into the right field corner, driving in Rummelsburg for the go-ahead and eventual winning run.

Kennedy made things interesting in the bottom of the eighth with a two-out triple into the right centerfield gap. But pitcher Eli Saucedo struck out the final Cougar batter to save the very satisfying victory for a Culver team that has struggled this season in close games. The win over Kennedy was the team's first in the month-long weekend Chatsworth Tournament.

"Matt Rummy was on first. I wasn't looking to score him. I was looking to just get a good pitch, hit the ball hard and move the runner around. I was confident the next guy up (Eli Saucedo) would get the job done," said Sterner, a four-year Centaur varsity baseball player.

"I got a good pitch and hit the ball pretty hard. I got lucky enough that the ball rolled far and Rummy could score. Kennedy was a crucial game because it was one of the first games where it was close all the way through and in the end we came out victorious."

Culver starter Matthew Paspalis shut out the Cougars for the first three innings as he and the defense kept Kennedy's lineup off-balance while scattering three Cougar singles. Andrew Calo came in to relieve in the bottom of the fourth, allowing only one run on an error and two singles. He pitched a scoreless fifth to keep the Centaur hopes alive.

Culver City offense woke up in the sixth inning. Jason Zeidman and Rummelsburg led off with a pair of singles before Sterner was hit by a pitch to load the bases with no outs. One out later Justin Weiner lined a single past shortstop into left centerfield to drive in Rummelsburg for the tying run.

Sterner: "Matthew Paspalis got the job done. He threw strikes, put the ball in play and allowed our defense to work and do their job. I feel like he did well. There have been quite a few games that we've taken ourselves out mentally. That didn't happen in this game. That's what changed in the Kennedy game that I'm proud of my team for."

The Centaurs then traveled to Hawthorne High this past Tuesday and crushed those Cougars 18-3 behind the pitching of Sterner and a 13-hit attack that brought their Ocean League record to 3-2. Culver scored five runs in the first inning, one in the second, six in the third, three in the fourth and three more in the sixth.

Hawthorne was held to three hits and committed six errors.They scored their only two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning on two Centaur errors and a hit. Both teams had to weather windy conditions and a stingy strike zone that made the game last longer than usual.

Sterner pitched six innings, gave up two hits and one run. Bobby Capa pitched the seventh inning in relief. Both pitchers combined for 13 strikeouts and seven walks. Eli Saucedo is expected to pitch for Culver in Thursday's home game against Hawthorne.

"Bobby Capa relieved me in the seventh inning. He was throwing strikes. Both me and the opposing pitcher were having trouble throwing strikes today. I think the umpire had a tight strike zone. But Bobby came up and threw strikes," said Sterner.

"We stacked on runs every inning and jumped on them early which was good. Our whole lineup was getting nice solid hits. Everyone got a chance to hit. It was extremely windy at Hawthorne. The wind affected some of the fly balls and definitely blew them around."

"I had a bit of a rough start just finding my mechanics at the beginning of the season. I feel like I locked in by league time, the most important time. During league I've been pitching well and I've been feeling good up there, too."

Sterner along with Eli Saucedo and Daniel Aceves are the team captains. They feel a responsibility to keep the team together and moving forward going into the rest of the season. There are currently 10 seniors out of the 16 players on the varsity roster. Many have been playing together since grade school.

"Eli, Daniel and I prepared for it. We communicate quite a bit with our teammates. There might be a lot of seniors on the team but they don't have as much varsity experience. We mostly discuss the mental part of the game to keep us in the game," said Sterner.

"Our team gets along well. Most of our guys have known each other since Little League. If there are any issues with the team we usually talk and solve those issues pretty quickly. So we keep it tight on our team."

The Culver High baseball players are also known for attending and supporting the school's other athletic programs no matter the sport or season. Their spirited attitude also travels on the road. Sterner acknowledged the team's continued tradition and inspiration of giving props to their fellow student athletes.

Sterner: "Since I came here as a freshman the seniors then went to the other Culver High games. So we're just carrying on but we do enjoy going to the games. It's not because it's a tradition, it's because we want to support the other teams.

"The other Culver teams definitely inspire us. We want to do as well as they do if not better. It's half a school pride thing and it's half that we want to compete to do better. It's fun to compete and I think it makes us better."

With five games remaining on the league schedule Culver has one home game with Hawthorne and two home-and-away battles with Santa Monica and Beverly Hills. Currently tied with Beverly Hills in third place and one game behind both El Segundo and Santa Monica, the Centaurs need to finish in the top three in league play to advance to the CIF Playoffs in three weeks.

Sterner and his teammates still expect to repeat as Ocean League champs: "Our goal right now is to win the rest of the games in the Ocean League. That gives us the best shot for playoffs and even a league championship depending on how the other teams do.

"We feel prepared because we know the only thing that can beat us is ourselves. If we do our job and make our plays we'll come out on top. It's just when we beat ourselves that the other teams come out victorious. We're very confident.


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