The final out of Poly High’s 2-1 victory against Kennedy High in softball on Saturday, April 14, was a routine fly ball into the glove of left fielder Chelsey Perez.
But there was nothing insignificant about the win.
The victory was No. 300 for Manny Peralta, who has coached here for 18 seasons. It was the first victory he could recall against Kennedy, a Los Angeles City Section and Valley-area softball power, a team his players have faced “at least a dozen times.”
The win continued to prove to Peralta, his players — and the rest of the City Section — that this is a terrific Poly squad.
The Parrots began the week with a 16-4 overall record (not including Wednesday’s game against Verdugo Hills; results were unavailable at press time). They were tied with Chavez for first place in the East Valley League at 5-1. The teams split the two previous games played against each other, and have one more meeting at Chavez on April 25.
Poly has all the prerequisites needed to be a championship contender: a dominant pitcher in Vivian Little, a timely offense, strong defense, and a knack for winning close games. Eight of their victories have been by two runs or less.
The newest addition to the Poly arsenal — better team chemistry.
“When I came in [as a freshman] the team was very young,” said Little, now a senior. “As we started to grow, we started to see that we needed a lot of chemistry. And it took time to build. But it came together. We’re always together…we’re like a family. Obviously a team is a family for everyone, but we like to pick each other up.
“I think this year is better than the last three years, when there was always something that threw our team off. This year we know that if our chemistry isn’t built together, we know we won’t be a championship caliber team. That’s why we try to stay close with each other.”
Natalie Topete, her catcher of the past three years, notes that this group of Parrots were also tired of being a “good opponent” who didn’t win against top-level teams.
“We want to start winning those big games,” she said. “Teams were always telling us, ‘good game, you guys are really competitive.’ We wanted to start winning, like we did against Kennedy.”
For Peralta, the blossoming of the year’s team has felt like both a reward and a reaffirmation of a decision he made years ago.
When he first started at Poly, he was both the girls’ varsity softball coach and a lead assistant to then varsity football coach Bob Mesa. When Mesa got an opportunity to coach at Van Nuys, he asked Peralta to join him there.
Peralta admits he was torn, but ultimately decided to cast his fate with softball.
“I said to the players ‘commit to me and I will commit to you,’” Peralta said. “When I committed to Poly, I hoped one day to get to something like 300 wins — a nice round number. My wife jokes that if I did, I could retire after that.”
Not really. And definitely not now, in a season where the Parrots have a genuine shot at being one of the eight teams to compete for the section’s first Open Division playoff title.
“This is the best start we’ve ever had,” Peralta said. “This year we’re beating [the kinds of] teams we have never been able to beat before.”
Among the 2018 victories are wins against Desert Oasis High of Las Vegas, San Pedro High, Sierra Canyon High, South High of Torrance and La Canada High.
The victory over South High, which came during the Spring Jamboree tournament in Las Vegas during the Easter break, was truly a signature win. The Spartans are the Southern Section defending Division V champions, and were 12-1 at the time.
It was the kind of game that Little — who gave up one run and three hits while striking out seven in six innings — has matured into being able to pitch.
“She practices all the time,” Topete said of her teammate. “When (the other Poly players) are doing infield and outfield drills, me and her go off to the side and work on her pitching.
“She was always good, but this is one of her top years. She’s been pushing herself. She could always throw hard. But this year she could be the No. 1 pitcher in the City.”
If Poly can reach the Open Division, it would be eager to reverse some of its recent playoff history. In 2015 the Parrots lost to Port of Los Angeles High in extra innings in the first round. In 2016, it was a first round loss to Carson High. And last year, another heart-breaking extra-inning loss to Port of Los Angeles, this time in the quarterfinals.
“This year it has not been about going to play in the playoffs, it is winning those games,” Peralta said. “The girls played a lot over summer, fall and winter. They made the commitment. I tell them I am here for the journey, but once you hit the field it’s how much you want it.
“This may be about their maturity. But there has been something special about this.”