UPDATE ON Tuesday, 06-15-2021:
In the end, superb play both offensively and defensively, coupled with solid pitching, put South Pasadena High’s baseball team in the quarterfinals, only three wins away from winning their first CIF title since – bring out the history books – 1958.
A late blooming team, the Tigers made the best of the playoffs following a 6-6 Rio Hondo League season, grabbing the third and final postseason spot following a 4-2 key victory over La Cañada, many believing they wouldn’t last long.
Yet, this bunch, riding the momentum following the big win over the Spartans, who had already nailed down second place behind the league’s best Monrovia, were determined to ride it out with renewed vigor, knowing that something special could be down their path.
In round one on June 4, the Tigers started climbing the mountain with a convincing 10-4 road win over Jurupa Valley. Round two four days later they traveled to take on Viewpoint of Calabasas in a game played at Sierra Canyon High School in Chatsworth and came away with a narrow 1-0 victory, setting up last Friday’s quarterfinal matchup against Elsinore at home. With a sizeable crowd on hand, two huge CIF wins already in the bank, and confidence at a season high, South Pasadena looked to be in a position of maybe, just maybe, pulling off a miracle feat of running the table and winning the long-awaited title.
“I just think it was the excitement of being there,” said Tigers’ head coach Jaime Garcia, talking about what lifted the spirit of his club, savoring the best for last down the stretch. “It was the moment, not being too excited about it, and as coaches, letting them know that they had been doing this, playing baseball, since they were little kids, growing up playing Little League T-ball. The game hasn’t changed. Just go out there and really have fun.”
The team fed off the encouraging words of Garcia and his assistants John Seevers and Paul Hugasian, who saw the potential in the team, which increased with each victory and the addition of some junior varsity players added to the roster for the CIF encounters.
“I think the atmosphere of having a larger group in the dugout, more voices, gave us more energy, making it more fun for the kids,” said Garcia, who watched the season come to the end for his team as Elsinore scored late and won the quarterfinal contest 5-3.
Elsinore jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning, added a run in the fourth to go up 2-0. South Pasadena scored in the fifth, added two more in the sixth to take the lead, but the visitors came back with three in the top of the seventh to pull in front, hang on and eventually win it.
The Tigers lone run in the bottom of the fifth came on a passed ball after sophomore Quinn Sterling doubled, moved over to third on a fielder’s choice and came home on a passed ball, prompting a loud roar from the home crowd, ready for a comeback. Sterling wound up with two hits on the day, joining his brother Cole, who contributed a pair of doubles. Teammates Noah Takeda-Teer, Ivan Becerra and Dillon Hugasian all belted singles.
“It was all she wrote for us,” said Garcia at the game’s conclusion, knowing that better days for his squad that fought to the end. “Our guys battled.”
Among the top talent was Takeda-Teer, earning all-league first team honors as a pitcher, joining Nico Schroeder, the team’s shortstop, garnering the same honor. Catcher Pablo Guerrero was selected to the second team.
Before his arrival as South Pasadena’s head coach three seasons ago, the tendency for opposing teams was to look past the Tigers on the schedule, noted Garcia, whose club played only one league game in 2020 due to the pandemic. It was a monumental one as the Tigers beat rival San Marino.
“It shocked everyone in the Rio Hondo League,” he said, looking back on the 4-2 victory, breaking what he believes was a stretch of 56 straight league losses by South Pasadena varsity teams.
The enjoyment felt carried over to this year with the Tigers taking three games from San Marino, two from Temple City and one big one from La Canada, propelling South Pasadena’s drive through the first two games of the playoffs.
“It was a blessing,” said Garcia, reflecting on his team’s12-11 campaign. “The community saw that we were on to something. That’s why we had a huge turnout for the Elsinore game.”
Following the loss, the Tigers’ coach received messages from some local school district officials, some saying they had never seen that many in attendance for a South Pasadena High baseball game. “There was no place to sit, it was great,” said Garcia. “And, one of the best things, a lot of Little League players were out there.”
Among those recognizing that South Pasadena High baseball is on its way back was the school’s athletic director Anthony Chan, saying: “I think this team was special because they’ve grown up with each other. Most of those seniors were freshmen under Coach Jaime and have grown with him. They’ve continued to buy in and play for each other instead of for themselves. They are an unselfish group and everyone bought in. We have amazing parents who bought in to the program and supported that team in whatever way they could, and taking away the other burdens of running a program like fundraising-giving those coaches the time to just coach those kids.”
Chan emailed South Pasadena Little League (SPLL) President Alberto Ocon ahead of Friday’s game against Elsinore, prompting a large gathering of young players to take in the action.
“We’re excited to keep kids excited and looking forward to playing Tiger baseball,” said Chan.
Garcia has been part of the SPLL baseball program for four years, starting out as junior varsity/freshman coach. He has before and after pictures of the Tigers’ field that once needed work but is in top condition today. Play on the field is matching it after the Tigers won their only league game against San Marino a year ago and went on to pick up six more this season.
When he took over as head coach three seasons ago, Garcia knew he had good group of players. “I just had a feeling, I knew it,” even after his first varsity team contributed to the 56 league game losing streak.
It only got better from there as the Tigers were 5-2 when the 2020 abbreviated season was suspended, only to pick up again this year with bright hopes “I don’t believe South Pasadena has had a 10-win plus season in the past 10 years, from what I’ve been told.” he said about this season’s finish. “I have to check all these league statistics, but I’m just going by what was told to me. For us to make it this far, the quarterfinals of CIF, it has been a long time.”
A straight shooter, Garcia said he was completely honest with his club following the Elsinore loss, telling his team: “I think ‘we kind of underperformed a little bit,’ but at the end of the day I was proud of their accomplishments, changing the atmosphere at the school, the program, and showing the underclassmen that this is what it takes to play good baseball. I told them, especially the older guys, to be leaders, and go out there and help the younger players. Sometimes it’s better received from a teammate than a coach.”
Overseeing athletics at the school, Chan said the Tigers’ baseball achievements, especially what it had to endure in face of COVID, like all sports on campus, “was a great moment in SPHS history and I thank the team for building this first step in continuing to make this program one of the best in the area.”
Garcia was right there with him, summing it all up with, “I’m 100 percent proud.”
A 6-6 third place finish in the Rio Hondo League didn’t stop South Pasadena High from playing its best baseball in the end as the Tigers rolled past a pair of CIF playoff opponents en route to Friday’s quarterfinal matchup at home against visiting Elsinore, dropping a 5-3 contest to end their playoff hopes.
South Pasadena had to knock off league opponent La Cañada just to get into the postseason, then recorded a 10-3 victory a week ago over Jurupa Valley before turning away Viewpoint 1-0 last Tuesday in second round action.
A win against Elsinore would have put South Pasadena within two games of being crowned CIF champs.