When Joe Saenz took over the young program of the San Pedro-based charter school in 2009, the Polar Bears would slowly, and surely, build their way up, and on Monday, they were able to do something no other male-related sport in school history has ever done before...
Become a CIF-Los Angeles City Section champion.
Sophomore second baseman Angel Munoz would lace an infield single to drive in senior first baseman/pitcher Chris Marshall with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning, providing the Polar Bears with a dramatic 3-2 victory over Fulton College Prep of Van Nuys in the CIF-Los Angeles City Section Division III final at USC's Dedeaux Field.
After three straight semifinal losses, the last two of which to the eventual champion, all the while as their sister softball team claimed three straight Division III crowns, it was finally time for the Polar Bear baseball team to celebrate a hard-earned championship.
In just two seasons, the father-son tag team of coaches Dennis and Brian Emerson have taken the Polar Bears to two straight Crosstown League championships, and now, a moment in time that will never be taken away, even in a game that could have gone the other way.
Marshall led off the bottom of the ninth inning with a towering double to left-center field, then was sacrificed over to third base with a bunt from sophomore first baseman/pitcher Fernando Rivas, who started the game as the pitcher, hurling six strong innings, allowing six hits and two runs (one unearned). In came Munoz, who stepped into a pressure-packed situation, and handled it like a professional.
With the count 1-and-1, Munoz drilled a hard ground ball at Fulton junior third baseman Joseph Reyes, who dove to stop the ball from going into the outfield. Reyes quickly popped up to try and get Marshall out at home plate, but the throw was offline as Marshall slid in safely for the championship-clinching run.
The celebration was on, and the top-seeded Polar Bears (14-9 overall) wasted no time in rejoicing.
Second-seeded Fulton (18-7) took a 2-0 lead in the top of the second inning, but POLA would answer with a run in the bottom of the second to trail 2-1. Senior left fielder Michael Vert blasted a first-pitch, lead-off triple in the bottom of the fourth, then would score off a ground-out by Rivas with two outs to tie the score at 2-2. POLA's defense would aid Rivas, junior Ricky Vasquez and Marshall by turning two inning-ending double plays.
However, there was one critical moment in the top of the ninth inning that saved the Polar Bears.
With one out and runners on first and second base, Marshall came in relief of Vasquez (two scoreless innings of relief) and would induce a ground ball hit by Fulton junior second baseman Jose Sanchez. What would happen after the ball was hit, was like riding a merry-go-round.
Rivas, now playing first base, would field the ground ball and fire to POLA senior shortstop Anthony Zankich for the force out of Fulton senior right fielder Robert Cabrera. Zankich then fired back to Rivas to try for the double play, but Sanchez beat the throw to first. Rivas instinctively fired to POLA senior catcher Gabriel Martinez at home plate noticing Fulton junior catcher Kevin Murcia, who led off the top of the ninth with a walk and advancing on a wild pitch, was trying to score from third base.
Martinez ran down Murcia, then fired back to Marshall who finally tagged out Murcia for the inning-ending double play.
That moment was the microcosm of how hard this championship run was for POLA, who defeated Valley Academy Arts & Sciences, Northridge Academy and Crosstown League foe Rancho Dominguez Prep in the prior three rounds en route to their historic title. The final three victories for POLA all came by one run, including their miraculous two-out, three-run rally in the bottom of the seventh to down Rancho Dominguez in the semifinals on May 30.
Marshall went 2-for-4 with a double and a run scored for POLA, while Vert went 2-for-3 with a triple and a run scored.
Yes, they did it the hard way, and POLA would not have wanted to claim their first City baseball crown in any other way.