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Chatsworth Strong-Arming Opponents Again PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mike Terry   
Thursday, 01 May 2014 05:53

M. Terry / SFVS

They’re Smiling Now — But Chatsworth players Sam Shaikin (left) and Riley Conlan know the hard work must continue for the Chancellors to reach the City Division I baseball final.

Deep Pitching Staff Make Chancellors A Definite City Contender

It was a busy and defining week for Chatsworth High, posting consecutive shutouts against Cleveland in the West Valley League, and also blanking Poly in it’s own invitational tournament. The Chancellors have won five straight, seven of their last eight, and have already reached 20 victories (against four losses and a tie). If the regular season had ended after beating the Parrots, Chatsworth would in all probability have the City’s top seed for the playoffs.

Yawn.

When you have the kind of storied history the Chatsworth baseball program does, the accomplishments so far in 2014 are a bare blip on the ‘wow’ radar. The Chancellors have won 30 league titles since 1969; nine in a row (1981-1989), eight in a row (1994-2001), and six in a row (2003-2008). They have won nine LA City titles since 1980; six of them were between 2000-2010, including three straight (2007-09). There were two mythical national championships won in 2003 and 2004. And 38 players have gone on to play Major League Baseball since 1966.

But there have been a couple of noted events that continue to evolve in the Chancellor storyline 2014.

First was the hiring of Curtis Scott being selected to replace Tom Meusborn as head coach. Meusborn had been at Chatsworth since 1990, and had guided the team to 19 league and eight City titles. He decided to pursue coaching at the collegiate level, and is now an assistant at Cal State Northridge.

So far Scott hasn’t seen any need to radically alter the way Chatsworth goes about its business. His personality may be different than Meusborn’s but his pursuit of championships is just as intense

“I didn’t go into the job trying to ‘replace a legend,’ Scott said. “I have known Tom for a long time and this was a great opportunity. The philosophies of how he and I run things are very similar. So I saw this as a great opportunity. I knew his record and everything, but it was not “oh my god, I have to continue this.’”

He said the parents and fans of the program have been great. Very supportive. “They have been welcoming, no resentment. The fact we are having a good year helps. But I wasn’t going to change a bunch of things; I didn’t need to. Having Coach (Fred) Pudrith there has been huge. And the JV and sophfrosh coaches (Thomas McKenna and Mickey Merrill) are still there. They’ve kept things stable.”

The players were accepting as well, he said. Any fears the seniors and juniors may have had about having to learn a new way of playing the game soon dissipated. And the other underclassmen have been given opportunities to have an impact, perhaps none more so than freshman pitcher Thomas Palomera (6-1, 0.76, 27 strikeouts), who is the number two starter behind senior Josh Garcia (4-3, 1.39, 35 strikeouts).

“The one thing I preach is one day at a time,” Scott said. Our goal is Dodger Stadium like everyone else. But the players must look at it as a process. Our guys do a good job in practice. We keep looking at the process as this is what it takes to be successful. We have played well in games we lost, and bad in some games we won. But so o far it has been going well.”

The other critical element has been the blossoming of a solid pitching staff that can go 6-8 arms deep. It’s been good enough to make the losses look like weeds amongst orchids. Banning High of Wilmington and Harvard-Westlake High both edged the Chancellors 1-0. Birmingham pulled off a 5-4 upset win, Chatsworth’s only league loss. Arbor View High of Las Vegas, NV, gave the Chancellors the closest thing they’ve had to a beatdown with an 8-5 win in a nonleague game on April 15.

The collective level of confidence the players have is, understandably, quite high. So is the focus they say they'll need to reach another championship game.

“We’re just looking at the next game in front of us,” said shortstop Sam Shaikin, a junior, batting .256 with four doubles. “Because at the end of the year we have the goal to win at Dodger Stadium. If you look too far ahead of you, what’s in front can be overlooked. And that’s how you lose games.”

Scott doesn’t have any problems keeping his players humble and motivated. For one thing, the Chancellors are still tied for second in the West Valley with Granada Hills; both trail unbeaten El Camino Real by a game. For another, even if Chatsworth has won nine City baseball titles, it hasn’t won one since 2010; in the last three years San Fernando has won two championships, and ECR the other one, beating Chatsworth in 2012.

Riley Conlan, the team’s leading hitter (.379) with five doubles and three home runs, didn’t get to play in that title game against ECR. But the loss remains an itch he cannot scratch unless the Chancellors can make it to this year’s final on June 7.

“It comes down to the little things,” said Conlan, a senior, who plays in the outfield. “We certainly learned that in 2012. A little pebble in your way, whether you had moved left or right; little things caused us to lose that game. It was as if the whole season flashed before our eyes. It was definitely a heartbreak.”

Conlan is convinced, though, that things will be different this year because of a plethora of quality arms.

“We have pitching that’s the best we’ve had in a long time. Not to say we’ve hadn’t had great pitching before; but this year we have more of it,” he said. “We have longevity in our pitching staff and we also have young arms that have already surpassed the expectations for them. It’s the deepest staff I’ve been around. For as long as I can remember, there hasn’t been a day of ‘oh, who are we gonna pitch now?’ We’re confident in every pitcher we have.”

In sticking to the playingwho’s- in-front-of-them mantra, the Chancellors will concentrate solely on Granada Hills this week, a team that beat them twice last year. Two weeks later they’ll face El Camino Real; the season-ending two games could decide the league and one of the top four Division I seeds for the playoffs.

Besides the faith in the pitching staff, Scott loves the team defense — so much so he emphasizes to the pitchers to literally keep the ball over the plate and make batters swing.

“We tell our pitchers to put ball in play because we will field it,” Scott said. “We want [opponents] out or on in four pitches. If they're out, it saves wear on the pitchers’ arms. If they're on base, we believe we’ll get the double play. We beat Poly [on April 26], and our pitcher John Cashman (4-0, 0.70) didn’t have one walk.”

The depth of the pitching staff will be tested during the next 6-7 weeks. So will the nerves and psyches of the players. It’s one thing to appreciate your history; its another to be crushed under the weight of it. The fans that love them now would take a mighty dim view of a first round exit similar to last year’s loss to University High of Los Angeles.

According to Shaikin, the formula is simple.

“Keep pitching well, playing defense, and get that key hit,” he said “When our offense is playing well we can hit that ball and score 10 runs. But in the tight games we just need that key hit to push us over the top.”

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Last Updated on Thursday, 01 May 2014 05:59