When Cleveland High’s softball team met on Friday, May 18, for its customary team-bonding ritual of pizza and lemonade, and watching television before a big game, the event was to help calm the nerves and focus on the Los Angeles City Section Division I championship game against Venice High the next day.
But along with connecting collectively, the players did something else. They all went back into the school gymnasium on Friday, and took a look at the only banner won by a Cleveland softball team — the Invitational championship of 2002.
“On Friday we all looked at that banner and said ‘we’re gonna put another one up,’” shortstop Cassie Swenson said.
Okay, Cleveland High administration — clear some space. The team did its part with a smartly and efficiently played game in downing Venice, 4-0, at Cal State Dominguez Hills.
Cleveland delivered on the promise it had shown during the 2018 season, not only posting a winning overall season (18-9) but proving to be competitive in the West Valley League. The Cavaliers, as the second seed, were ready for the Division I playoffs and for their moment: neither proved too big.
Well, there was that near stumble in the May 15 semifinal game, when Chavez took a 5-4 lead in the top of the fourth.
“(The team) was more nervous in the semifinal game because we really wanted to make it to the final,” said Swenson, a junior. “I know everyone had the feeling we were gonna make it through, but we did have that one point in the semifinal of ‘Oh My God.’
“But we overcame that, and mentally prepared ourselves at practice. And at the team bonding we made sure we were ready and comfortable. Coming to this game, I think we had the right mentality, and we told ourselves ‘we got this.’”
Cavaliers starting pitcher Jackie Jacobson agrees. She is one of four seniors on the 16-player roster, making this a relatively young team. But Jacobson strongly insists the Cleveland team became a cohesive group in a relatively short amount of time.
“This group of girls, even though it was basically a new team this year, have definitely gotten so close these short couple of months,” Jacobson said. “It’s kind of amazing how close we’ve gotten together.”
Jacobson set an impressive tone on the mound. She didn’t try to force her pitches (striking out only one) nor did she fight her control (walking none). She just kept the ball in the strike zone to keep Venice swinging and let her defense do the rest, which it did flawlessly. The Gondoliers (23-6-1), the fifth seed, only had five hits — all singles — and had runners in scoring position in only three of their seven innings at bat.
Venice senior starter Victoria Raygosa, who struck out five and gave up six hits, kept Cleveland off the scoreboard until the bottom of the third. But it was then the Cavaliers struck for three runs, on a two-run double by Juliana Guzman, and a RBI double by Carolina Iturriaga.
Swenson completed the scoring with a solo home run leading off the fourth. It was her eighth such blast this season.
All Cleveland Coach Marcia Garcia pretty much had to do was sit back and watch. Okay, it wasn’t that easy. But once the Cavaliers had the lead, the game didn’t seem that stressful.
“The girls were definitely firing on all cylinders today,” Garcia said. “They were really energetic, backing each other up. And their bats were alive…it was our best game of the year. The bats, the pitching, the defense — everything was working out great for us.”
And, with a few tweaks and a fresh infusion of talent from the junior varsity, this remaining group of Cavaliers could be playing in another final very soon.
Jacobson certainly thinks so.
“I don’t doubt these girls could be right back here again (next year),” she said. “I believe in them.”