On Friday afternoon, June 1, Santa Monica High players occupied the dugout where the Dodgers usually are.
When the CIF Division 4 championship game began, Samohi players took their positions — Johnny Huerta standing where Jeff Kent does, Diego Valdez taking throws where Nomar Garciaparra does, Tyler Skaggs throwing pitches from the same mound frequented by Derek Lowe, Brad Penny and Randy Wolf.
In the stands, a solid block of several thousand Viking rooters sat in the box seats behind the Dodgers’ dugout.
Unfortunately, though, Samohi lost to Charter Oak High of Covina, 7-1, and was jittery in contrast to its usual play.
Four errors and a balk contributed to the Vikings’ defeat, and afterward Coach Kevin Brockway said, “We haven’t played as badly all season.”
Enough of the negatives.
Samohi’s season will be remembered for 24 victories, capped by a come-from-behind 5-4 win over Northview of Covina in the semifinals three days earlier.
Samohi had not qualified for the division championship game at Dodger Stadium in 31 years.
This was Brockway’s third season as the Vikings’ coach, and much was expected of a senior-dominated team. What transpired was an Ocean League championship and conquest of longtime nemesis El Segundo in the playoffs.
Brockway chose to pitch Joe McGrew in the semifinal game, reasoning the senior all-CIF lefthander’s experience would help get Samohi into the Dodger Stadium contest.
He was right, but the gamble was that Skaggs, a sophomore, would be the choice for the title game.
Skaggs has vast potential, but this wasn’t his best day. He fell behind in counts and wasn’t as sharp as he’s been on numerous other occasions.
And his defense betrayed him. Against an opponent content to bunt, steal bases and move runners along with fundamentally sound play, Samohi fell behind, 3-1, then 5-1, then 7-1. Charter Oak made the most of its opportunities while Samohi squandered the few chances it had.
The long fly out was Samohi’s most consistent play, even when a baserunner was needed to jump-start a rally in the late innings.
In addition, reliever Casey Reese gave up two runs and put Charter Oak out of reach of being caught, as Northview had been when Samohi erased a 4-0 deficit in the final two innings On May 30.
Some players might focus on the fact they struggled in the highlight game of the season, but their ability to advance this far should be treasured.
Samohi’s lone division championship was in 1973.
The game was even for an inning. After Charter Oak scored one run in the top of the first, Samohi’s first three batters reached base to tie the score. David Castellanos and Johnny Huerta singled and Devon Ramirez hit a pop fly that was dropped, allowing Castellanos to score.
However, the Vikings didn’t score again in the inning or the game.
They left the bases loaded in the fourth and later wasted a line drive double to the opposite field by Dylan Early.
Paul Salazar pitched superbly in relief, as he’s done all season, and may be considered to join Skaggs as Samohi’s two main starting pitchers next season.
McGrew was brought in to get the final out in the seventh, no doubt for the purpose of giving him a chance to pitch, albeit so briefly, in Dodger Stadium.
And then, to illustrate the fortunes of baseball, there was Huerta. His double brought in the winning run in the semifinal game, but he struck out for the final out of this one.