Chavez Learning Academies and El Camino Real Charter have ascended to the top two spots in LA City Section softball in 2019, both as survivors and opportunists.
At first glance there wouldn’t appear to be that much linking the two schools together beyond their avid pursuit of providing quality education and their title-winning teams — Chavez, which beat Roosevelt High of Los Angeles in the Division I game, 3-0, and El Camino Real beating on Granada Hills Charter, 9-0, in the Open Division game, both on May 18. ECR has long been softball royalty, having now won 16 championships since softball became a City sport in 1974. Chavez hasn’t been around 16 years; its four high schools didn’t open until 2011.
But some subtle sleuthing reveals, if not similarities, an interesting symmetry.
Both head coaches begin their last name with the letter “B” — Jodi Borenstein at El Camino Real, and Stephanie Boshae at Chavez. They both became head coaches at their respective schools in 2015, and both won City championships in 2016. Chavez was then in Division II, and Division I was the highest title the Conquistadors could play for.
And here they both are three years later, champions again in the same year, and once again separated by one rung on the playoff ladder. Even their records are comparable: Chavez is 23-13, ECR is 21-9. Good, but not especially dominant marks.
Borenstein and Boshae have not met or have competed against each other. But they share a similar view of how to win.
“I want kids that are going to work hard and do what we ask,” Borenstein said. “A disciplined athlete, and someone who’s going to work hard. I mean, our team batting average was .296. It’s not like we have these numbers that are just ‘oh-my-gosh,’ out the roof. Sometimes you need kids who get the big hit when you need it, or put the bunt down when you ask them to do things like that. Sacrifice for the team — that’s the kind of kid I want.”
As for Boshae, she seeks “someone who is willing to do anything for the team. Someone who is a competitor. And someone who wants to get better, who has the hunger to get better. That seems to be, year after year, the one who makes the most progress — those types of players.”
Boshae didn’t have a real grasp of how she wanted her team, seeded fourth, to play Roosevelt, the seventh seed. She was unable to do any scouting or glean much from the stats on maxpreps.com, since the Rough Riders don’t post any.
“Coming in, all I knew was we had to stay disciplined at the plate, and play how we’ve been playing — the rest would take care of itself,” she said. “We did, we executed, we put the ball in play. And we played tight defense.”
The Eagles were clean in the field — no errors — and sophomore starter Arianna Martinez was in control on the mound, striking out seven and scattering four Roosevelt singles through seven innings.
“She has been on fire the last few games,” Boshae said of Martinez. “She’s been getting ahead of the count, hitting her spots, locating pitches. And that’s all we ask her to do.”
“After we got the first run, everything started to click in,” Martinez said. “The nerves were [gone]; it was, ‘let’s do this.’”
The offense was supplied by third baseman Paola Rodriguez, a junior. She drove in the only run Martinez would need with a RBI single in the first. And Rodriguez expanded Chavez’s lead with a two-run homer in the third. All came against Roosevelt starter Samantha Islas.
“My gosh, I was just in the moment,” Rodriguez said. “This is the best feeling in the world, knowing that I contributed to our scoring runs and helping my team win the Division I championship. I’m like in tears; this is the best feeling in the world.”
These Eagles are more like Eaglets. There are only two departing seniors on the roster, and 12 of the listed players are either freshmen or sophomores. Outsiders may think they overachieved. But if they stay together, this could be a formidable group for another two or three seasons.
“We all understood what hard work it would be to get to this point,” Rodriguez said. “We understood it, processed it, and said to ourselves we need to go to CIF and win these rings.”
Added Martinez, “I think we can definitely bring more players to our school, get a better program and a bigger name to our school.”
Sounds like the Eaglets are still hungry. Just the way Boshae likes it.
Sixth seed ECR had beaten Granada Hills twice in West Valley League play this season, by scores of 13-1 and 7-1. But the fact that the eighth seeded Highlanders had beaten top seed San Fernando High and fourth seed Kennedy in its first two Open Division playoff games, on the road no less, did not guarantee the Conquistadors a third straight win against their rivals.
Except for one thing: El Camino Real had the two best players on the field — pitcher Jillian Kelly, a sophomore, and outfielder Jordyn Vanhook, a senior.
On any other day, Kelly would have been the shining star. She restricted the Highlanders to one hit — an infield single in the fifth — and walked one while striking out six in throwing a complete game that was ruthlessly efficient but looked effortless.
“She gets overshadowed by other teams in our league because she doesn’t throw ‘65,’” Borenstein said of Kelly. “But she places the ball well. You never think when you see her ‘she’s the pitcher.’ But she comes out, she brings it, and she keeps us in ball games. We scored some runs for her. But if you score a couple, that’s gonna be enough for her.”
“The whole game I just had the same mindset — it was always gonna be a 0-0 game, it didn’t matter what the score was,” Kelly said. “I just knew we all had to come out and play our game.”
No one played it like Vanhook. The centerfielder had four of the Conquistadors’ 11 hits, and the last three all left the yard in a hurry. A two-run homer by Vanhook to left-center off Highlanders starter Ally Herredia in the third began the scoring for ECR. Vanhook followed that with another two-run homer down the left field line in the fourth.
When she batted in the fifth, the Conquistadors had two runners on base with one out. Granada Hills had brought in a new pitcher, freshman Kit Zenga, who threw hard but straight. The game was still within reach for the Highlanders, who decided to pitch again to Vanhook.
Bam! A towering shot would glance off the Dominguez Hills’ scoreboard in right-center and nestle on the hillside, a guesstimated 315 feet away from home plate
“Our assistant coach was a coach for Granada a while back,” Vanhook said afterward. “She told us ‘they’ll probably throw you here.’ I was being patient. And when you get your pitch, that’s what can happen.”
Borenstein could only marvel at her senior, who is headed to Arizona State University.
“That kid…I’ve had her for four years,” Borenstein said. “The growth I’ve seen over four years by her is something I want to say I’ve never seen in a player. She continued to get better, she grew as a person, she grew as a teammate, she grew as a student in the classroom. And she’s just maturing as a softball player. Just to see how far she’s come, and knowing she’s going on to play Pac-12 softball, I’m just so happy for her.
“To go in and hit 4-for-4 with three home runs is probably single-handedly the best performance in a City final. I played for Chatsworth, coached at El Camino. I’ve been around a lot of section softball. And we have an older gentleman here, Bobby Fisher. He’s been watching City softball since the 1970s. I asked him if he could remember seeing something like this, and he said ‘Never.’”
Like Chavez, El Camino Real is young with only two departing seniors. They could also be a continuing force the next 2-3 seasons.
Hmmm, how about a game ladies?