Santa Monica High Schoolís capture of the Ocean League baseball title this season couldnít have come against a more fitting opponent.
The Vikings reclaimed the league baseball title by defeating the team that took it away from them last season — the defending league champion Culver City High School Centaurs.
The convincing 11-3 victory over the visiting Centaurs Thursday, May 10th, gave the Vikings (20-9, 9-1) back the league title, which they held two seasons ago. The Centaurs (12-15, 5-5) also lost 5-2 at home in the earlier meeting with the Vikings Tuesday, May 8th.
By earning the back-to-back victories over Culver City to end the regular season, the Vikings secured the outright league championship over second-place Beverly Hills High School, which handed Santa Monica its only league defeat of the season, 3-2 May 1st.
Santa Monica senior right fielder Dylan Early, who was on the Vikingsí league championship squad two years ago, acknowledged that the narrow loss to Beverly Hills added some pressure, but said the Vikings were pleased to take back the league title against the defending champions.
“We knew we had to come out here and do a job and we did it, so it feels good,” said Early, who added that the league title was especially pleasing in his senior year.
Early finished one-for-three, including a triple to centerfield in the second inning.
Vikings coach Kevin Brockway also noted the significance of reclaiming the league crown one year after Santa Monica High suffered a tragedy with the shooting death of student Eddie Lopez.
“Anytime you win a championship it feels good,” Brockway said. “The intensity and passion they [players] had this year was tremendous on their part.”
The Santa Monica coach also expressed gratification that his team was able to fulfill its goal of reaching the league-champion status it achieved two seasons ago.
“Our main focus was to get back to playing the way we did the year before,” Brockway said of his teamís preseason goal.
In the final game of the regular season against Culver City, the Vikings got on the scoreboard first with a run in the first inning but fell behind in the second, when the Centaurs sent home three runs, including two off a triple by junior Ryan Sherriff.
Santa Monica opened the third inning with two hits by taking advantage of two fielding errors by the Centaurs and retook the lead for good at 4-3 after an RBI (run batted in) single by senior Rayvelle Holsome.
After the Vikings loaded the bases, they picked up two more back-to-back runs off RBIs by senior Jose Campos and sophomore Vince Lawrence. Senior John Huerta capped off the six-run inning by sending home two runs to give Santa Monica a comfortable 8-3 lead.
The Centaurs picked up their defense in the next two innings to keep the Vikings from getting on base, including a double play to end the fourth inning.
On offense, Culver City managed to get a runner on third base in both the fourth and fifth innings, but the Santa Monica defense, led by starting pitcher Joe McGrew, prevented any Centaurs from scoring.
McGrew finished with three strikeouts in six innings pitched for the Vikings.
Santa Monica added three more runs in the sixth inning off three consecutive RBI doubles by Devon Ramirez, Diego Valdez and Bryan Eyler.
Early closed out the victory for the Vikings as pitcher, and while he made a throwing error at first base, his teammates made up for it by converting the final out at second base.
“Getting up on the hill with my team behind me feels good,” said Early, who added that he was preparing as a pitcher for the playoffs.
Brockway expressed confidence in his team as they head into the playoffs, and said he was especially pleased with the Vikingsí performance throughout the regular season.
“Weíve been in every ball game to the last out,” Brockway said.