M. Terry / SFVS

Maybe Next Year — The disconsolate Arleta Mustangs team after falling to LACES in the City Division II baseball final.

For many, a Unicorn is simply a magical, fantastical beast that gallops through fairy tales and fuels science fiction imaginations.

For the Arleta Mustangs, the Unicorns are a competitive nightmare — at least the ones from the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies (LACES) that play baseball.

These Unicorns (17-10) had little trouble handling the Mustangs in the City Section Division II baseball final, winning 7-1 on Saturday, June 3, at Dodger Stadium.

It was a third consecutive title (and sixth overall) for LACES, seeded fourth, which had won Division III championships in 2015 and 2016. And it continued a historical hold the Unicorns have on Arleta. They beat the Mustangs back in 2007 for the Small Schools (now Division III) championship by a 4-3 score in eight innings. They also beat Arleta earlier this season in a tournament game, 4-1.

The No. 14 Mustangs (15-18) were the second team under the current playoff format to reach a division final after having to win a play-in game. They were riding a four-game winning streak entering Saturday’s contest. But they were never really in this game.

LACES saw to that by scoring early and often, and getting a strong pitching performance from starting pitcher Finn Starzyk, a junior, who gave up just one run on three hits while striking out seven and walking three in 6.2 innings. Starzyk (8-5) could have thrown a complete game, but LACES Coach Todd Israel gave senior Erik Ponce the honor of getting the final out.

“We knew we were going to have a tough battle against them,” Arleta Coach Victor Zamora said.  “We just didn’t get the job done today. The kids worked hard. I’m sad for the seniors; but I told them before the game, ‘where would you rather play a game of baseball than Dodger Stadium, win or lose?’

“I think they gave 110 percent and I’m proud of them for that.”

LACES got all the runs it needed in the bottom of the first, scoring three times off Mustangs starter Manny Cardenas on a RBI single by Beckham Ballora and a two-run double by Jordan Dorell. But the Unicorns would add two more runs in the third, and two more in the fifth.

Arleta had its best threat in the fifth, loading the bases with one out on a pair of walks and a bunt single by Angel Ruiz. But the Mustangs could only score once, Cardenas’ sacrifice fly plating Max Tapia.

Zamora pointed out that even though Arleta had seven seniors on his 18 player roster, most of them were in their second year of varsity level, and that his team as a whole was less experienced than LACES.

That inexperience definitely showed at the plate. Starzyk had three innings where he needed nine pitches or less to get three outs. Meanwhile Cardenas — who gave up all seven runs and 10 hits in five innings of work — had only one inning where he threw less than 10 pitches.

Still, Zamora added, the memory of making the final and playing in Dodger Stadium should always be a positive one for the Mustangs despite the final score.

“This is a ‘lifetime’ experience,” the coach said. “This is something they could talk about to their parents, to their kids — just the moment. This team’s going to have something to talk about later on; this is something they’ll talk about forever.”

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