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El Camino Real tops Chatsworth in Comebacks PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mike Terry Contributing Writer   
Thursday, 07 June 2012 03:29

J.J. Crane's Two-Out, Two-Run Single In The Bottom Of The Ninth Inning Gives Conquistadors The City Division I Title


Oh Yeah! -- Hayden Rappopport jumps for joy after scoring the winning run in El Camino Real's 5-4 victory against Chatsworth in the City Section Division I final at Dodger Stadium last weekend. Mitchell Dergazarian (19), who scored the tying run, has already begun to celebrate ECR's second baseball title in the last three years.

A battle between baseball royalty turned into a battle royal at Dodger Stadium as Chatsworth and El Camino Real, two of the City Section's most decorated programs, took the Division I final down to its last gasp.

The Conquistadors had built a 3-0 lead, but lost it in the seventh as the Chancellors tied it up and sent the game to extra innings. Chatsworth went ahead in the top of the ninth 4-3, and got within one strike of winning it.

But that last strike didn't cross the plate. With the afternoon sun enlarging the shadows stretched across the field last Saturday, June 2, ECR's J.J. Crane slapped a two-out, 3-and-2 pitch for seeing-eye grounder that somehow eluded third baseman Ernesto Porado and shortstop Jared Holley, with runners on second and third.

Conquistadors Mitchell Dergazarian and Hayden Rappoport gleefully shot across the plate to lift El Camino Real to a 5-4 victory and secured the school's seventh title overall, and the second in the past three years.

"I wasn't really nervous; I was in that situation before (this season) against Cleveland," said Crane, moments before being drenched in a Gatorade shower by teammates. "We were down by one, and I hit a double to tie it.

"This couldn't have been a better game. Definitely dramatic. I've dreamed of (getting a winning hit for a championship) since I started baseball at 3-years-old. It was a dream come true, for sure."

It was a nightmare, again, for Chatsworth (28-5-1), which has won nine City titles since 1983. The last one came in 2009. Since then, the Chancellors have appeared in the last two finals, falling to San Fernando in 2011, and El Camino Real last weekend.

Why does that 10th title remain maddeningly out of reach?

"I don't know if it's elusive," Chatsworth Coach Tom Meusborn said. "I just think we're kind of streaky. We win three in a row, we lose a couple. It's just…I guess all I can say is we are a streaky team. Hopefully we'll turn it around and get on that winning streak again."

The win vindicated the approach Coach Josh Lienhard had taken this season, putting a young team – only four seniors on the 19-player roster – through a difficult schedule that included games against Harvard-Westlake, Chaminade, Torrance, Poway, and Alemany. The Conquistadors lumbered out of the gate 3-5, and were still below .500 (9-10) as recently as April 9.

"We have a tendency of, when (teams) score or we strike out in a big situation, we can get down," Lienhard said. "I've tried to stay on them."

Lienhard then lauded the elderly Conquistador quartet of Justin Russell, Crane, Christopher Nicholson and Dergazarian, who he said did so much to keep ECR's season from crashing.

"These seniors, what they've done this year has been tremendous," Lienhard said.

El Camino Real and Chatsworth were co-West Valley League champs (ECR won a coin flip to be the league's top team after all other tie-breakers were exhausted) and given the Division's top two playoff seeds. With teams that know each other as well as these do, you'd need the Hubble telescope to find an edge.

In fact, both coaches didn't think there was one.

"Our two (league) games this season went back-and-forth," Lienhard said. "We were up, I think, 4-0 at our place, they tied it 4-4, but we go on to win 7-5. We go up 5-2 at their place, they come back to tie it up, and then win it in the sixth or seventh. It was unfortunate a coin flip had to determine which team got first place in league. We won it, but I think both teams would have gotten here."

"I don't think you get an edge," Meusborn said. "I think it's whoever catches breaks here – who makes their own breaks, who makes the plays. That's what it comes down to (at Dodger Stadium)."

Maybe the "edge" was a historical one. The teams had previously played each other for the City title in 1990,1993,1994,1998 and 2005. Chatsworth won the first one, but ECR won the next four.

The "winning streak" is now at five, and, as Crane said, it doesn't get any more dramatic than this. El Camino Real broke through in the bottom of the first as Nicholson led off by singling to center. He stole second, and came home on an RBI hit to right by Mason Novak.

A couple of pivotal plays in the second helped increase the lead to 3-0. An error by Chatsworth second baseman Scott Voets with two outs extended the inning, and a balk by Chancellor starter Jason Karkenny scored Crane from third. Russell then punched a double to right to score Nicholson, on base from Voets' error.

"I don't think he balked," sand Meusborn, who argued for several minutes with the umpires. "But I think (Russell) got a hit anyway after that, and it might have scored the second run anyway. But it is what it is.

"We talked to our guys all week about it, and tried to make sure we were stepping to third base. Unfortunately it didn't go our way."

That looked like plenty of support for ECR starter Owen Perry, who had rocked the Chatsworth offense to sleep on one hit through five innings. But the Chancellors began stirring in the sixth, putting the first two men on base with consecutive hits. Lienhard decided to change pitchers; Russell, who began the game at second base, was called on to relieve.

Russell got out of the sixth unscathed. But in the seventh, Chatsworth sent nine batters to the plate and turned four hits, two hit batters and a sacrifice fly into three runs.

And when the Chancellors got to Russell again in the ninth – a leadoff single by Justin Vega, who went to second on a wild pitch and then scored when Crane, playing third, threw away Voets' sacrifice bunt – it looked like a comeback that Chatsworth would always recall with great fondness.

Except the Conquistadors also had one last chance.

"We knew that Chatsworth was going to come back, it was just a matter of when," Crane said. "We prepared for this. We practice every day, two hours, whatever it takes. This whole year we've come back multiple times. We were ready for it since the start of the season."

The Chancellors weren't ready – at least for the ensuing heartbreak.

"This is one of the hardest things I've ever seen in my life," said Voets, while watching El Camino Real celebrate its title. "I've never felt the way I feel today in my entire life."

Last Updated on Thursday, 07 June 2012 03:34