César E. Chavez Learning Academies, which opened in 2011, is still a young high school with young athletic programs. But the baseball team has reached the City Section Division II final in two of the last three years.
Now the Eagles have to figure out how to win it once they get there.
This time it was Lincoln High of Los Angeles that kept Chavez from a championship, scoring a 3-0 victory at Dodger Stadium on Saturday, May 30. It was the Tigers’ first City baseball title in 81 years.
A poor start ended up dooming Chavez (8-18). Lincoln scored all three runs in the first, sending nine batters to the plate against freshman right-hander Gunner Orozco. Leadoff hitter Matthew Castro walked and went to second on a bunt single by Christian Frias. Julian Vidal grounded one to Eagles second baseman Diego Sanchez dropped, then threw past first base for an error, allowing Castro to score. The Tigers added two more runs on a RBI single by Angel Valadez, and a bases-loaded walk to Albert Ramirez.
That was more than enough for sophomore right-hander Isaac Cota, who kept the Eagles off-balance with an array of off-speed pitches, inducing easy ground balls or lazy fly balls. Cota wasn’t overpowering, striking out only two. But he was highly efficient, allowing only three hits and needing only 78 pitches to throw a complete game shutout.
Sanchez, who singled in the second, was the only Eagle player to reach third base.
“We were anxious with the sticks,” noted Chavez assistant coach Omero Peña. “We scored 30 runs in four [previous playoff] games. Unfortunately we couldn’t wake them up today. That was our downfall. We gave them three unearned runs and we couldn’t come back from that.”
Orozco deserved a better fate. He threw 36 pitches in that ill-fated first inning, but only gave up one more hit to Lincoln after that. The Tigers threatened one more time, putting two on with two out in the bottom of sixth, but Orozco retired Castro to end the inning
“[Orozco] has done that all season long,” Peña said. “After the first inning I had a talk with him, told him to settle in and get those jitters off and be good to go. He’s done that all season long.”
Lincoln Coach Jose Romero was surprised his team could not extend its lead.
“We had so many opportunities to score and we didn’t take advantage of it,” Romero said. “It’s been a part of the season. And it’s kids. It seems sometimes they get a nice lead and they relax a bit — which is not what we’re coaching them to do. But our pitching was strong.”
The list of City Section baseball champions listed in the official programs only goes back to 1943. Romero said school historians say the Tigers won a championship in 1935. “Kenny Washington” — a football teammate of Jackie Robinson at UCLA and the first African American to sign an NFL contract in the modern (post WWII) era — “was part of that team,” he said.
Perhaps it was enough — again — that Chavez reached the final. The Eagles endured a difficult regular season, having to forfeit several games and then endure a 1-11 East Valley League record. But they got into the Division II playoffs as a 19th seed and, starting with a play-in game, defeated Contreras, Sotomayor, Monroe and Franklin to reach the final.
At some point you have to believe Chavez will, indeed, take that next step.