The Culver City High School varsity baseball team was seeking redemption in its final two regular season games against Santa Monica. Both squads carried 8-0 records into their home-and-home series to decide the Ocean League title.
The scenario was the same last spring when Santa Monica captured both games against Culver City to take first place, but this time the Centaurs came out on top with a pair of one-run victories to clinch the league title. After edging the Vikings 7-6 in the first game Tuesday, Culver City wrapped up their first-ever undefeated Ocean League crown Thursday with a dramatic 1-0 triumph.
Pinch runner Pablo Saucedo scored from third base on Darian Sylvester's two-out single in the bottom of the seventh inning, igniting a wild celebration near the mound. In the top of the inning, Saucedo kept the game scoreless with a running catch at the right field fence. That heroic play came after Sylvester tagged out a runner trying to steal second. Afterwards, Saucedo couldn't help but look ahead to the next phase of the season.
"We're champions--UNDEFEATED champions," he said. "CIF championship next. That's it."
Freshman pitcher Jay Sterner outdueled Samohi's Connor Greene to earned the complete-game victory with a clutch effort. Playing on a roster full of seniors it was two underclassmen--Sterner and Sylvester--who also made a huge impact.
"What can I say? This is just the beginning of the end. We're the Ocean League champions so now we get ready for the beginning of the playoff run," Centaurs Coach Rick Prieto said. "I can't be more proud of these young men than I am today. I'd proud to have any one of them as my son. That's what I think about them."
Senior outfielder/first baseman George Aceves played on last year's squad that fell short of the league crown but rebounded to reach the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section playoffs.
"We battled all the time, we never give up and we've been working hard since September," Aceves said. "It's a privilege to be the first team at Culver City to be undefeated league champions and we owe it all to Coach Prieto. He does a great job with us."
Culver City (19-8 overall, 10-0 in league) finished the season on a roll, winning 10 of its final 11 games. Four of the Centaurs' last five wins have been by way of shutout, a credit to the team's pitching staff.
"Great game! This team is very special," said Centaurs pitcher Tyler Mark, who started Tuesday's 7-6 win. "We have 12 seniors and we've all played together since our freshman year so it's very exciting. I knew that we had strong pitching coming back. The question [going into the season] was offense. Our defense is always good, our pitching is always good and we hit the ball. So it's all good."
Santa Monica and Culver City split their two meetings in 2009 on the way to sharing the league title. Last season, the Vikings won both games by 2-1 and 7-3 scores to take first place outright.
"It was so emotional, a great game by both teams," said catcher/first baseman Jon Kocker, who had a key triple early in the first game against the Vikings. "It came down to the last inning, the last out. Hopefully it'll sink in tomorrow. We knew we had the potential to do it but the right things had to fall into place and they did."