They’re located in different pockets of the San Fernando Valley, El Camino Real Charter High on the westside and the Chávez Learning Academies in the northeast. But when it comes to softball, the ECR Royals and the Chávez Eagles — in their own ways — are standard bearers in the Los Angeles City Section, from how to play the game to how to win a ring.
Both added more glitter to their resumes in the 2022 championship finals held at Cal State University Northridge on Saturday, May 21. The Eagles defeated Legacy High of South Gate, 6-2, for the Division I title, and the Royals outmuscled Kennedy High, 12-6, for the Open Division crown.
For ECR, it was the third straight Open Division title and 18th softball championship overall, breaking a tie with San Pedro for the most titles won by one school since softball became a varsity sport in 1974. For Chavez, it was a fourth softball title in the past eight seasons.
A little piece of trivia: both teams also won the same titles on the same day in 2019.
Now, back to this year’s story because there is plenty to tell.
Eagles Knock off Legacy
It’s worth remembering how long the Chávez Learning Academies have been in operation as a public school.
The answer — not long. The four campuses opened in 2011.
Stephanie Boshae took over the softball program in 2015. And the Eagles have won four City titles — two in Division II (2015 and 2016), and now two in Division I — over that span.
Many teams in many sports have waited much longer to win even one title. Meaning in a relatively short period of time, Boshae has developed a brand, a culture, at Chávez. And that indicates a special presence running the show.
Boshae’s players seem to think so.
“I’ve known her since I was little,” said shortstop Rayne Corona, a senior. “She’s never given up on us. She’s always taught us to play hard no matter what, to push through everything. I’m so glad to have had her as my coach throughout the four years [at Chávez].”
Because she gives a lot, Boshae expects a lot — in quality, not quantity.
“I really do think we’ve established [their identity],” said Boshae, chatting the day after the finals. “Any girl interested in the program, they know it’s a big commitment. And they know from the other girls what they’re getting into because it says you’ve agreed to be a part of it.”
Boshae goes as far as to track the grades of every player each semester, and not just to see if they are doing just enough to stay eligible.
“We are very academic-centered at Chávez,” she said. “I’m making sure they’re being good students. I check in with their teachers, seeing how they’re acting in the classroom.
“And it just resonates in [the players’] heads: ‘I gotta be a good student. I gotta act right at school.’ Even off the field, in the classroom, out at lunchtime, they’re expected to act a certain way.”
That attention to detail and setting of standards has worked in a variety of settings, from senior-dominated large rosters to the somewhat smaller roster (13 players) the Eagles had in 2022, in every grade level.
What was fun to watch on Saturday, unless you were a Legacy supporter, was how complete a game Chavez played. All elements were on display: timely hitting, smart baserunning, sterling defense (three double plays) and solid pitching.
The Tigers (20-9), the fifth seed, were and are a good team. But there was never a moment where they truly threatened the Eagles (20-10), the sixth seed.
“The goal the whole game was to make the other team work,” Boshae said. “Be a ‘hard out’ at the plate [by putting] the ball in play and making them field the ball off the ground, because balls hit in the air are often easier ‘outs’ than balls hit on the ground. The balls on the ground or the hard line drives, you have less time to react and track them down.”
Chávez gave its starter Kailey Duran a 2-0 lead in the third inning when Jessica Ramos — a freshman — belted a home run to right field with a runner on base. The Eagles then pretty much put the game away with four more runs with two outs in the fourth, highlighted Duran’s two-run double.
Duran, a sophomore and Boshae’s daughter, took care of the rest from the mound, only giving up single runs to the Tigers in the fourth and seventh innings.
And the celebration was on.
“Honestly, it’s been like a tough time because of the pandemic,” said shortstop Charlize Rodriguez, a senior. “We had a good season, but we’ve been working every day during school days, during the offseason.
“This team has such a good bond; we all come together and we work together. And once the rally keeps going, we get all hyped and it just keeps going and keeps going.”
Boshae will return nine players from this team, and can also restock from the junior varsity, which was restarted once the pandemic subsided enough for students to return to campus.
She wants to get Chávez to the next level — the Open Division — and perform well.
“That’s the goal,” the coach said.
And this may be the time to pursue that goal, especially if El Camino Real is about to come back to the rest of the City pack.
Winning No. 18
The Royals’ current run of excellence is over — at least for this group of Royals. And that’s because most of them will graduate.
Eleven of the 16 players on the roster are seniors; eight of them were starters on Saturday. Of the 11, six have started on all three championship teams, and six will continue playing in college.
And if the Royals had been able to play the 2020 season, which was canceled due to the pandemic, who knows? We may be talking about four consecutive championships, which hasn’t happened in City softball since — surprise — El Camino Real did it from 1988-91.
“I think so,” said Brooke DeSmet, a senior and ECR’s winning pitcher on Saturday. “I think that this team is absolutely unforgettable and unreal. I mean, we worked so hard through COVID, through everything and just to come out on top once again is absolutely unreal.”
“We do have a very unique collection of people,” said second baseman Maya Pickl, a senior. “Most of us have been playing together since we were five or six years old. We all grew up playing ‘rec’ ball together. We stayed on the same travel team together and then when we came to high school we all knew each other’s game. We know how to play with each other. We’re a big cohesive unit.”
Jodi Borenstein is entrenched in the Royals’ winning legacy, being a part of six championship teams as an assistant coach and current head coach. Very rarely does a head coach get a large group of players already as developed as this group of Royals, and keep them all four years. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t need coaching or attention.
“It’s more than just talent. There’s so much more mentally about the game that they had to learn, too,” Borenstein said. “Listen, these kids are in school; they’re smart but they have to manage AP classes and tests. They’re stressed coming to the practice; they’re emotional — they’re girls — and you got 16 different personalities. We just make it work. They make it work.”
Still, the top seed Royals (24-6) were stumbling early against the seventh seed Cougars — a terrific story themselves for having reached the finals despite having no home field this season due to all the renovations being undertaken at Kennedy, and playing those home games at a recreational location known as Petit Park.
Kennedy (23-6) bolted out to a 6-1 lead in the first two innings. The Royals looked both tight and disconcerted, especially on defense as they mishandled one fielding chance after another.
“Honestly I was surprised (at how well Kennedy started),” Pickl said. “We have a lot of energy and they came out with the energy to match us.”
Borenstein saw the same thing and quickly huddled with her players after the Cougars made their last out in the top of the second.
“We had to get over the nerves, the jitters,” she said. “We were being passive, we had some bad body language out there. That’s all the conversation was about. ‘Go out and play softball. You know how to play softball. And do it like we practiced all year.’”
Something else that defines this team: the Royals can flat-out mash. In the 30 games they’ve played this season, ECR has scored 10 or more runs 11 times — and 20 or more runs in three different games.
Kennedy, ultimately, became one of those double-digit victims.
ECR roared back with five runs in the bottom of the second to tie the game at 6-6. “That was the turning point,” Borenstein said. “Kennedy had us on our heels. [But] I think once we got those runs, it was, like, relief for us. We were able to think, ‘Okay, now it’s tied, now we’re back in this game.’ Everybody relaxed, and then we just took over from there.”
El Camino Real took the lead for good in the bottom of the fourth on solo home runs by Hannah Di Genova and Courtney Cohen (who each had three hits). They added four more runs in the bottom of the fifth to secure the championship.
In this day and age, when students can transfer schools much more easily than in the past, it is hard to say if El Camino Real — or any other school — will see this kind of grouping again soon.
Those who did see those Royal seniors play their brand of softball for four years won’t soon forget them.