From January to December in the year 2013, there were lots of incredible teams, impeccable feats, impossible comebacks and indescribable highlights in the San Pedro prep sports world. It was a great year, no questions asked.
If there's a team out there that was the most incredible of them all... the POLA High softball team would be a good starting point.
The Polar Bears and head coach Melissa Bugarin-Espinoza proved for the third straight season that they are a cut above the CIF-Los Angeles City Section Small Schools Division, steamrolling their way to a third consecutive City title with a dominant 16-3 win over then-unbeaten Northridge Academy at Cal State Dominguez Hills on May 25. POLA's rise to stardom in softball has been quite enormous, says returning senior first baseman Allison Bayer.
"What I personally love about being there for all three of these years, is that I was able to watch our program and school grow from not being known at all, to schools and teams knowing who we are and wanting to actually play us," Bayer says.
Not only that, POLA, who went 28-8 overall in 2013, challenged themselves against bigger schools to overcome that tag of being a 'Small School', and they went 12-8 in a grueling tournament schedule, even beating some well-renowned programs such as Empire of Arizona, Verrado of Arizona and even City Section big school power Banning of Wilmington, three schools that won 25 or more games in 2013.
That impressive resume landed a top ranking in Cal-Hi Sports Division V state softball poll for POLA.
"I am inspired by these girls. Being a small school, much less a new program, they do not see themselves as David vs. Goliath. They believe in each other and their talents and show up BIG in these tournaments." says Bugarin-Espinoza, the 2013 Cal-Hi Sports Small Schools Coach Of The Year along with her husband Moe. "They want to be seen as a legitimate team, and I have become a HUGE believer in their talents and their ability to leave it all on the field."
The Polar Bears were paced by the likes of Bayer, the reigning City Section Small Schools Player Of The Year, and City Section Small Schools Pitcher Of The Year Nicolle Miranda, but they had a lot of more dangerous weapons in their arsenal such as infielders Kelsea Short, Savana Ramirez and Rose Garcia. Miranda and Bayer both made the Cal-Hi Sports All-State Small Schools Team, as did Marina Vitalich, another sensational pitcher from another magnificent softball team in town... Mary Star softball.
The Stars' run to success wasn't as fruitful as POLA's, but it was still truly remarkable, with a twist of fate on the side.
No one saw Mary Star coming in the way they did, as they struggled out of the starting gate with a 3-5 record, and many felt this was a rebuilding year after graduating 8 seniors from the 2012 team that repeated as Camino Real League champions. Yet, with Vitalich in the circle, the rest of the team began to follow suit and improve day-by-day. Mary Star would capture a third straight Camino Real League title and became just the sixth sports team in school history to reach a CIF-Southern Section championship game.
Even after an extra-inning, 1-0 loss in the second round to Shadow Hills of Indio was suddenly reversed a day later due to an illegal batting practice before the game gave the Stars a second chance.
"We were definitely shocked and excited because we now had another shot to reach our goal of making the finals," Vitalich said.
Mary Star would respond in a big way, eliminating two-time defending CIF-SS Division 6 champion Pomona Catholic, 5-0 on the road in the quarterfinals with a booming three-run home run from Cassie Demers in the seventh inning that capped off the upset. Then the Stars would follow it up with a 2-0 semifinal win against Rosamond, with the biggest hit coming from Lexie Geich. Her booming RBI-triple in the bottom of the sixth added the insurance coach Gregg Aguilar and the Stars needed to advance to the CIF-SS Division 6 finals.
Of course, the masterful pitching of Vitalich played a huge part in both victories, while other valuable contributors such as Demers, Geich, All-CIF selection Amber Nunez, Mariah Marquez and Christina Padilla were just as important in the Stars' road to the finals.
"Before the game against Rosamond I as well as my team would abide by the motto of one pitch, one play, one inning at a time," Geich said. "Being able to come through for my team when I hit that triple was the best feeling in the world."
The magical run ended on June 1 with an 8-4 loss to Bell-Jeff in the championship, but that didn't take the luster off these Stars' shine.
"Looking back at how we started the year, and how we finished it is absolutely amazing to think that we were one inning away from Mary Star's first CIF Championship." Aguilar says. "I could not have been more proud of a group of young ladies as I was after that game. The heart, the fight and the never give up attitude was something that all coaches strive for from their athletes."
POLA had another special team that reached a City Section Small Schools championship in 2013... their three-time Crosstown League champion girls soccer team.
The league didn't provide much competition for the Polar Bears, as they had scorers aplenty in Nikki Bonilla, Alyssa Bristol, Melissa Rodriguez, Tiffany Torres and Isabela Van Antwerp, all of whom scored 10 goals or more for the season. Bonilla scored a whopping 32 goals on the season, setting a San Pedro prep sports record previously held by former San Pedro standout Alyssa Mullenhour who scored 31 in 2008.
"Getting to reach success always has its hardships but with all the hard work you put on yourself and the positive thoughts you give to yourself, it's more likely that you will succeed in what you are trying to accomplish no matter what it may be." Bonilla said.
Bonilla wasn't able to score as much in the playoffs, but the rest of the team picked her up during their run to a second straight City Small Schools championship game, where they lost to defending champion LACES. Torres was the catalyst in POLA's three playoff victories, scoring five of her 10 goals during the playoffs, including two electrifying goals in the Polar Bears' 4-1 semifinal win over Fulton College Prep of Van Nuys.
"I just think we pushed through as a team," Torres said. "And I know I never gave up. I took every opportunity I got and did the best I could."
Kirsten Bauman, currently a junior at San Pedro High, was involved in the most breathtaking event of the year.
Bauman, the girls volleyball team, and all of San Pedro High on October 17, 2013 was on pins and needles before the comeback dubbed as the 'Miracle On 17th Street' was completed in a Marine League match against visiting Banning of Wilmington.
The Pirates were trailing 14-8 in the fifth set, a point away from losing to their Harbor Area neighbors for the first time ever in girls volleyball, but Bauman and the Pirates changed all of that. San Pedro would go on an 8-1 run to reverse Banning's match point into a match point for themselves, and fought off a spirited effort from the Pilots to eventually pull out a dramatic 25-19, 24-26, 25-19, 13-25, 18-16 Marine League victory, capping off perhaps the most unlikeliest of comeback victories in the history of all sports at San Pedro High.
Bauman, Paige Peterson, Amber Ruiz, Katie Sullivan, Jazmin Tela and Katie Bentovoja all had their moments during that remarkable rally.
"Oh my goodness!" Bauman said. "I am so proud of my team and what we did that night against Banning. We proved that anything is possible with perseverance and passion. Once Banning reached match point we knew that it was our last chance to bring it back and there was no room for any mistakes. The cheers from our crowd motivated us even more."
Sullivan, who transferred from Mary Star, was the one who made the most critical contribution, by serving in the Pirates' five-point rally to tie the match up at 14-14.
"I knew everyone was depending on my serves, but those are the moments where you have to trust in your team and we all really pulled together," Sullivan said.
Peterson was also targeted by Banning during the rally, but she managed to contribute with several match-saving digs. In fact, it was her go-ahead kill that finally gave the Pirates the lead for good at 16-15.
"I've never been so excited in any game that I've played so far," Peterson said. "I had a lot of faith point-by-point and just making sure no ball touched the ground. It was the best relief to just let everything out when we won."
Mary Star baseball was another magnificent team in 2013, as they would go on to win the Camino Real League championship for the first time in eight years, but unlike the 2005 champion, they ran the table and won all ten league contests. The Stars also laid claim to being the best baseball team in town, knocking out eventual Crosstown League champion and CIF-LACS Small Schools semifinalist POLA in a nonleague game.
One of the catalysts on Mary Star's special baseball team was Jacob Lechuga, who bounced back to the private school after playing on the 2012 San Pedro team that won the Marine League championship and reached the City Section Division I semifinals.
"I won two (league) championships at San Pedro. It was good to get one at Mary Star, because no one has faith in Mary Star," Lechuga said. "Just because were a private school and don't have as much talent, but this year we proved everyone in San Pedro that this was our year and we never gave up on each other and our goals. We had to show people in this town that we had heart and never gave up."
The most mind-blowing stat of the year came courtesy of recently graduated San Pedro High baseball star Richard Samudio on Saturday, April 13 at Taft High of Woodland Hills.
In a San Fernando Tiger Classic Tournament game against the Toreadors, Samudio turned what was a highly competitive game into his own personal showcase, hitting an unreal four home runs IN ONE GAME. That's right, four home runs, and that sparked the Pirates to a dominant 24-7 victory over Taft. Two of Samudio's home runs came in during a nine-run seventh inning to emphatically put the game away for San Pedro, who hit seven home runs overall in that game alone.
The longest road trip of 2013 belongs to the San Pedro football team.
Taking a ride for four hours and 33 minutes for their 2013 season opener, the Pirates took on host Morro Bay, and conquered with an impressive 21-0 shutout.
Pete Palacios would provide the biggest play of the game, as on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter, he would get a gaping hole created by the offensive line and burst right through it for a 73-yard touchdown to punctuate a strong performance by the Pirates. "Offensively we started slow but after a while, we got our stuff together and made some halftime adjustments," said Palacios, who ran for 150 yards on 11 carries and two touchdowns. "After that, one block away and we were gone."
The ride back home wasn't as smooth, as their charter bus hit two flat tires in Los Olivos at 11 pm, and they didn't reach San Pedro High until 5:26 am on Saturday, August 31... but that ride didn't seem longer than it was, besides, San Pedro came out of it victorious.
Finally we head on back to softball... with the 'WOW' moment of the year coming from San Pedro High's Jocelyn Kondash.
In an El Segundo Tournament game against Santa Monica on May 4, Kondash faced a 1-and-2 count before literally crushing a pitch over a 30-foot wall at Recreation Park for a grand slam home run, providing the Pirates with an impressive 9-4 victory for fifth place in the tournament.
"I didn't even realize that there were runners on base," Kondash said. "I was just focused on hitting the ball solid and getting on base. After I hit the home run I was overcome with joy and excitement. I had no idea I had the power to conquer a 30-foot fence."
There were other moments in the past year that were also unforgettable, such as legendary San Pedro softball coach Tony Dobra notching his 700th career victory in April; San Pedro boys cross-country winning their sixth CIF-LACS championship in November; Tyler Sestich tossing a late game-winning 6-yard touchdown pass to Donald Olkie for Mary Star football in a 24-21 win over St. Monica of Santa Monica on September 14; the San Pedro boys volleyball team repeating as Marine League champions and reaching the CIF-LACS Division I semifinals; the Mary Star boys volleyball team repeating as Camino Real League champions; San Pedro boys soccer winning a CIF-LACS playoff thriller over Fairfax of Los Angeles on penalty kicks on February 13; Jordyn Alves' scoring a tying goal in the final minute for Mary Star girls soccer against POLA on December 11; POLA girls cross-country repeating as CIF-LACS Small Schools champions in November; Mary Star boys basketball winning a double overtime thriller over Sage Hill on December 20 on a Nathan Linayao buzzer-beating three-pointer, and San Pedro boys basketball getting a three-pointer from James Fish at the buzzer to beat Gardena on December 30.
Yes indeed, prep sports in San Pedro continues to be on the rise. What will 2014 hold in store?