The epilogue for the 2016 baseball season at El Camino Real is a simple one. Which makes sense, in a way, since baseball is a simple game.
“They got it done,” said Coach Josh Lienhard, when asked how he would describe his group of players that won back-to-back Los Angeles City Section championships on Saturday, May 28, after beating Chatsworth in the Division I final at Dodger Stadium, 2-1.
It may not have been the most athletically talented ever to lace up the spikes, or the most dominant team ever assembled. But with a 28-7 record, the Conquistadors knew how to compete and how to win.
“They never panicked throughout the season,” Lienhard said. “We never got beat up. The JSerra game was our biggest deficit, maybe 7-0 in the second inning, but they finished the game only losing 10-8. They never felt there was a situation they couldn’t overcome.”
But when people talk about the 78th annual City championship baseball game years from now, they will point to “The Throw” unleashed by outfielder Daniel Moreno, a senior, that saved the victory.
More on that later.
Saturday’s contest once again guaranteed a Valley area team would win the Division I championship for the 24th consecutive year, and 43 of the last 44 years. The last non-Valley team to win was San Pedro in 1992.
The buildup was easy. Chatsworth and El Camino Real. Two schools separated by 10 miles. Two teams that had won a combined 16 City 4A or Division I baseball titles in 32 years. Co-champions of the West Valley League in 2016 that split their two league games, with each team winning on the other’s home field.
Chatsworth (29-7) appeared to have its pitching set up exactly the way it wanted with starter Ryan Roche, a junior who was 9-0 in 2016. El Camino Real had to use its ace Jeremy Polon in the semifinal win against Birmingham, so Jordan Berg, a senior, got the call.
The Chancellors scratched out a run in the second inning with three hits, the last a bunt single by Josh Medina which scored Brandon Bohning from third with one out.
It seemed like a 1-0 lead was a lot to ask of Roche in this environment, a championship game. But early on the Conquistadors were acting as if they were trying to get back on the 405 Freeway to beat holiday traffic. Roche averaged seven pitches in his first four innings, and gave up just two hits.
“He was just carving us up,” Lienhard said. “I think we hit him hard like twice, and both of those were outs.”
ECR showed a bit more patience in the fifth, making Roche throw 14 pitches in that inning. And in the sixth, the game changed.
Dane Reed led off with a single to left for El Camino Real, and went second on a sacrifice bunt. After Eric Yang walked on four pitches, Chatsworth Coach Tom Meusborn decided to bring in reliever Tommy Palomera, even though Roche had only thrown 52 pitches.
“I just thought their hitters had seen Roche enough. It was his second or third time through their lineup,” Meusborn said. “And Tommy’s been real good out of the bullpen.”
Palomera eventually walked Jake Baer on a close 3-2 pitch to load the bases. Up next was ECR designated hitter Jake Terrazas. Palomera got two quick strikes on Terrazas, who fouled off a third pitch. Terrazas then drove a ground ball into right field, driving in two runs and giving El Camino Real the lead.
“I had faced him a couple of times,” Terrazas said of Palomera. “He’s a solid pitcher, great stuff. I had gotten a couple of curveballs for strikes, so I was waiting for a pitch in [his hitting] zone. And with two strikes I was just battling.”
“For [Terrazas] to come in that situation against Palomera who’s really tough…he just hung in there, fought off a couple tough pitches and came through,” Lienhard said.
Could Chatsworth respond? It appeared so when Daniel Zakosek began the bottom of the sixth with a double to left off Berg. Lienhard decided then to bring in his best reliever, Elan Filous. The junior right-hander struck out Max Mehlbaum, but Andrew Renteria drove a single to center.
Moreno took the ball on one hop as Zakosek rounded third. He then unleashed “The Throw.” The ball, framed against the bright blue sky over Dodger Stadium, flew high and straight approximately 240 feet to Yang, who was behind the plate. Yang caught the ball on the fly and turned toward third.
Zakosek, stunningly, was still 4-5 steps from home.
“He usually doesn’t throw ‘em that high,” Yang said. “I thought it might have a chance to go over my head, But then it literally came just perfect right here,” positioning his hands at his chest.
“I was honestly surprised that they sent him. But Moreno got to the ball quick and got rid of it quick.”
Because Yang had the ball and the time to see where and how Zakosek was coming at him, he could apply an aggressive tag and do everything he could to keep Zakosek from jarring the ball loose. After the collision, Zakosek — a catcher himself — needed a few moments before getting to his feet, although he would stay in the game.
The combination of “The Throw” and the tag electrified the crowd, energized the Conquistadors, and took the air out of the Chancellors dugout.
“He just threw a dart. And he’s done that all season long,” Berg said. “When I got that out, all the momentum was on our side. The crowd was going crazy, teammates were going crazy, and I got the energy I needed to go on.”
Lienhard and other Conquistadors would recall a similar throw by Moreno in the 13th inning of a tournament game against Helix High during a San Diego Lions tournament game back in March to save a victory.
But that was a tournament game.
This was the City championship game.
“I actually thought it was offline,” Lienhard said. “At first I’m like ‘auuuugh,’ then I’m like “OHHHHHH!’”
“Crazy,” Moreno said afterward. “The base hit was hit to me, and I just had to make a throw.”
How good was it?
“The best throw I’ve ever made.”
That’s what it took to beat Chatsworth, which has won nine City titles overall, but continues to be denied since its last title in 2009.
“A really clean game today,” said Meusborn, who added he “was fine” with the decision to send Zakosek to the plate in the sixth. “I thought it was two good teams competing, and really showed the section real well. Just a couple of details that made the difference.”
That is why the Conquistadors are back-to-back champs for the first time since 1997-98. It was the first time a City team repeated as champion since Chatsworth won three consecutive titles from 2007-09.
“It feels good,” Yang said. “We had that slump toward the end of the season. But that week off before the playoffs started really helped us. We really knew what we had to do in these playoffs.”
They just got it done.