Thirteen years ago, no one would have labeled Chatsworth High baseball as an “afterthought.”
After all, in 2009 the Chancellors had claimed a ninth Los Angeles City Section upper division title by defeating Cleveland and was considered one of the dominant programs in Southern California, let alone the San Fernando Valley.
But that reputation had waned over the past 13 years. The Chancellors were winless in their last five title appearances during that span, and had been passed by Birmingham and El Camino Real charter high schools in terms of prominence. The emergence of Granada Hills High the past two seasons further pushed Chatsworth back deeper into the pack.
That changed on Saturday, May 28, when the Chancellors shut out Birmingham, 2-0, at Dodger Stadium to win the 2022 Open Division title.
Behind just enough offense, and the sturdy pitching of senior right-hander Jose Ruedas — who struck out six, walked none and gave up just four hits in pitching a complete game — the Chancellors (16-14) became the first City program to claim 10 baseball titles; an impressive feat in itself when you consider that varsity baseball has been a City championship sport since 1943.
For one year, at least, the Chat is Back.
Ruedas’ first memory of pitching against Birmingham in West Valley League play was not a good one. “I lost 2-1 I believe, and I was not gonna let that happen again,” he said after the final out on Saturday. “I know they can hit. But I told myself, ‘I’m not gonna let them score this time.’”
Chatsworth Coach Marcus Alvarado dedicated the win to his father Mike, the iconic head coach at Kennedy High School for 24 years and a winner of five City titles, and also to the players of those Chatsworth teams that had not won a championship the past 13 years.
“The players that were fortunate to play at Dodger Stadium but didn’t find a way to win the ballgame … I mean, that’s not uncommon [for teams],” Alvarado said.
“We didn’t think of it as a ‘curse’ or ‘jinx.’ Our job this year was to find a way to get there, and find a way to score one more run than any opponent that we were playing. This was for those players that didn’t have the opportunity to feel what we’re feeling like today.”
Alvarado, who became the Chatsworth head coach in 2020, has deep baseball roots in the Valley. He played for his father at Kennedy, being a member of the 1996 title team, and has also been an assistant coach.
“My dad was my mentor, he taught me everything,” Alvarado said.
And one of those baseball — and life — lessons was knowing when to look back into the past as you head into the future.
Although the 2020 season would be canceled due to the pandemic, a significant change for Chatsworth was percolating. Alvarado had noticed little signs with the word “Worth” around the school’s baseball complex. The players also said, “Worth!” before they took the field to play. When he asked the players about it, then seniors Daniel Ortiz and Billy Rusen told him it was a phrase coined by Coach Tom Meusborn, who won eight championships at Chatsworth, including 2009 City title — “Winning, Opportunity, Relentless, Team and Honor.”
“When they told me, I thought to myself, ‘You know that’s pretty good,’” Alvarado said.
Alvarado had uniform shirts designed for this season that — instead of the whole school name “Chatsworth” — carried the one word, “Worth.” While some may have interpreted that as some sort of hip nickname, Alvarado wanted to give the team a subtle reminder of who it was, and what the phrase represented.
He also went back to the team’s earlier uniform scheme, when yellow and orange were the dominant colors under former longtime coach Al Forno. Over time, the color yellow had been replaced by the color blue.
“I brought back yellow because I knew yellow was a traditional color,” Alvarado said. “I just wanted to bring all the history back at Chatsworth.”
“Bumpy” 2022 Season
The Chancellors had gone 13-8 in Alvarado’s first season in 2021. But this past season was bruising, Alvarado said, as the Chancellors struggled to develop consistency.
“We were still trying to find our ‘system,’” Alvarado said. “We had a tough fall league [but] the coaching staff and the players knew that we were capable of [winning]. During the beginning of the season, I believe that we got off to a good start. Then we had a bump and were battling with each other, trying to find a way to start playing back to our level.”
The Chancellors managed just three wins in the West Valley League. No one knew it then, but the weekly grind of the West Valley League (which placed five of its six teams to the Open Division bracket, including top seed Granada Hills) had made the Chancellors tournament tough.
“I mean, it’s nice knowing that every single day that you got to come to play in the West Valley League,” Alvarado said. “It does prepare you for the playoffs because there’s no downtime from the first tournament, the nonleague games we choose to play, and league. That’s something that I liked.”
Lowest Seed to Win
The Open Division is still relatively new, first being introduced in 2018. But it already has an interesting quirk: no first or second seeded team has won it.
And now, the Chancellors are the lowest seed to have done so. In winning it all, Chatsworth, seeded ninth, beat the eighth seed (Carson), the one seed (Granada Hills), the fifth seed (Roosevelt) and the second seed (Birmingham).
The championship game itself was not chocked full of excitement because pitching dominated. Birmingham (21-10) had only four hits but its three pitchers only gave up five hits to Chatsworth.
Nonetheless it was evident that the Chancellors played relaxed, and the Patriots were tight. And Birmingham had two key miscues that were pivotal in the scoring by Chatsworth.
In the top of the third inning, the Chancellors loaded the bases on two bunt singles and a sacrifice bunt that Birmingham starter Jake Amado mishandled for an error. Amado then compounded his misfortune by hitting Chatsworth’s Jonathan Cerda to force in a run. And in the top of the sixth, an error by Patriots shortstop Vince Cervantes on a ground ball enabled the Chancellors’ Octavio Bonilla to score all the way from second.
That was plenty for Ruedas, who had only one tough inning — the bottom of the second when the first two Patriots reached base. Ruedas promptly retired the next three hitters on two strikeouts and a popup to short.
“Jose was in ‘the zone,’” Alvarado said. “We went over the game plan, he knew what he had to do. He knew that he had a defense that was gonna back him up. And no walks — that usually means wins.”
And when Ruedas needed a big defensive play, he got it in the sixth when Cerda — playing first base — made a sparking, over-the-shoulder catch in short right field to rob the Patriots’ Domenik Cervantes of a possible hit.
Most of all, the Chancellors played the kind of game that Alvarado believed they could play at the most important time.
“Playing in this atmosphere brings out something in you that you don’t even know,” the coach said. “I also believe the players were not afraid; they played intense, but also relaxed. They most definitely played with confidence and made all the defensive plays. And we put the pressure on their defense as best as we could.”
Years from now — 13? — those who did not play in the game or watch it from the stands may think of the results as just a historical “afterthought.”
But for the Chatsworth program and its fans, the triumph is a “10.”
For them, it’s perfect.