On Saturday, February 22, the San Pedro and Port Of Los Angeles High softball teams got together like they have done for the past three years to be special guests for the San Pedro High Girls Softball Association's Opening Day ceremony for the 2014 season.
They took a dual team picture together, and separate team photos. It was one big happy family.
Come Thursday, April 24 however, they will be on opposite ends of a crosstown spectrum that is sure to be entertaining to watch, but don't make the mistake of calling this battle a classic case of 'big sister vs. little sister'.
San Pedro, currently 14-4 overall, is a 16-time CIF-Los Angeles City Section Division I champion but POLA, 13-3 overall, is the reigning three-time Small Schools Division champion in the City Section who is making a giant leap into the Division I realm for the playoffs. It's a nonleague clash that is destined to draw a massive audience and a game the City Section playoff pollsters are going to keep a close eye on.
"I know it's going to be a good game, but it's also going to be fun playing another team within the City (Section)," San Pedro senior outfielder Doreen Corella says. "Personally though, I think it's just another game in our schedule."
POLA coach Melissa Bugarin-Espinoza is one to never let her guard down about the magnitude of this game.
"Our team is UP for ALL games we play," Bugarin-Espinoza says. "We know that we have had many successes and opportunities to prove the legitimacy of our program, and whenever we have the chance to play decorated programs we show up ready. These ladies have never had the 'just another game' mentality."
POLA, currently preparing for the Spring Jamboree Tournament in Las Vegas which begins Thursday, is off to their best start in school history and has already claimed the Redondo Tournament. San Pedro is coming off winning the Whittier Tournament and 13 straight games before two Marine League losses to powers Carson and Banning knocked them off a notch.
The Pirates defeated Gardena last Thursday and is currently off on spring break before the showdown with POLA, 3 pm at Los Angeles Harbor College on April 24.
San Pedro senior catcher Armida Roman has been the biggest surprise of the year, hitting .410 with six home runs and 17 RBIs, including the massive three-home run game against South Torrance on March 17. Junior outfielder Cayla Ezelle is the next most dangerous hitter at .333 with three homers and 14 RBIs for the Pirates who have gone a pitcher-by-committee deal with seniors Jocelyn Kondash and Jaclyn Rivera, along with freshman Cindy Robles.
POLA counters with a two-pitcher tag team with junior Nicolle Miranda and freshman Analise De La Roca, while their main hitters thus far have been junior infielder Briana Valencia, freshman outfielder Shelby Younkin and junior catcher Savana Ramirez. Although senior mainstays first baseman Allison Bayer and shortstop Kelsea Short have both struggled most of the year at the plate, they thrive in big-game situations.
In fact, the last time San Pedro and POLA faced each other in the first round of the El Segundo Tournament on April 28, 2012, it was Short's walk-off single that propelled the Polar Bears to a dramatic come-from-behind 6-5 victory.
"When you have the chance to play a decorated program that has a history of success like San Pedro, it is always a BIG win for the girls and the program," Bugarin-Espinoza says. "That game versus Pedro was a great game and it came down to who blinked first."
This year's meeting is the quintessential rubber match considering San Pedro won the inaugural battle, 9-0 in five innings in the first round of the El Segundo Tournament on April 30, 2011.
"We're going to just try to give it all we got and play one game at a time," Ezelle says. "POLA is a good team, and we are a good team. We just need to go out there and play our game."
POLA's Short, Bayer and senior outfielder Sarah Maldonado along with San Pedro's Corella, Roman, senior shortstop Angelina Boskovich and senior first baseman Katrina Herrera were a part of both the 2011 and 2012 encounters, and all will figure to play a vital role in this meeting that will go a long way in determining who gets a first round home game in the City Section Division I playoffs...
Not to mention bragging rights for the city of San Pedro.
"The first two times were a great match-up for us," Bayer says. "We've always been the underdogs. For me, it's always a thrill taking on a well-known, already proven team because it's a chance to prove ourselves over and over again with each game."
Fasten your seat belts for this one, you're sure to be in for a thrill ride.