Baseball: Temple City’s journey started long before the season started; Alhambra greeted by rousing ovation, throng of alumni.

Above: Temple City’s Jonah Jarrard (above) and Corey Copping (below) are one of seven seniors who have played on the same team since they were 7-years-old.

It was around this time last year when Temple City assistant coach Mike Gonzales made the drive with eight of his players to watch Bishop Amat and Palm Desert in the CIF-Southern Section Division 4 championship game at Dodger Stadium.

When the final out was recorded, the Lancers celebrated a dominating 7-0 victory. As that was happening, Gonzales turned to his contingent of players and had one question for them.

“They watched Bishop Amat celebrate and I looked at all the kids and said, `If that’s what you want to be doing, we start working tomorrow,’ ” Temple City coach Barry Bacon recalled. “That’s the effort I’ve gotten.”

Temple City went to work. It started in the Elks Tournament and then in Rio Hondo League play. It’s all added up to an impressive season with one final chapter left to be written before a storybook ending as the Rams take on Palm Desert for the Division 4 title Saturday night at 7:30 at UC Riverside.

Among the Rams players who attended last year’s title game were seven seniors: Christian Li, Jonah Jarrard, Benji Sanderson, Calvin Copping, Ben Arrue, Kyle Starling and Corey Copping. That group made a commitment to reach the finals this season and make their senior year a special one.

But what makes that particular group so special is how far back this journey goes as 7-year-olds playing on the same Little League team and moving up the ranks.

They’re the epitome of what high school sports is all about: a group of youths who grew up in the same community and now are representing more than just their uniform. They’re representing a city that’s proved supportive throughout the playoffs.

That’s been evident by the fans who have followed Temple City (24-3-1) on the road, including Tuesday’s semifinal game against St. Bonaventure in Ventura.

That sense of belonging to a community has inspired the team to become more close-knit, and it’s evident in everything they set out to do.

“Every night before a game they eat dinner together,” Bacon said. “They talk about being in class together, they eat lunch together.”

On Memorial Day, the Rams took part in practice and observed the day as well. Rams assistant coach Rob Nelson planted the American flag on the field. When practice was over, the team held a barbecue at a teammates’ house where a potluck was in order.

It’s probably what makes this run so special, that it’s being driven by a group that genuinely cares for each other on and off the field.

“Playing ball with these guys my entire life there’s no better feeling than knowing we’re in the finals now,” said Kyle Starling, a standout first baseman and integral part of the pitching rotation. “We played Little League together, Pony, juniors, everything together. It’s just so special.”

Show of support

Temple City was greeted by a warm reception when the team returned to campus on Wednesday following its 2-0 win over St. Bonaventure.

There are brackets posted in the administrative office, and each Temple City win was highlighted as the Rams inched closer to the title game.

Teachers greeted Bacon with congratulatory hugs, and many plan on making the trip to Riverside. The Rams celebrated their semifinal victory with a dogpile that was modest. It was such a competitive game even St. Bonaventure fans had some nice words for Temple City as the team walked to its bus.

“They were awesome,” Bacon said. “They were very congratulatory and wishing us good luck on our way out, and they were complimenting our pitcher. It was just really nice to see and hear.”

Alhambra making history

Alhambra’s first semifinal trip since 1947 helped pack Moor Field to capacity. Moors coach Steve Gewecke said he’s never seen the place as crowded as it was on Tuesday against Beckman.

Moor Field, which features a large grandstand behind home plate that serves as the home and visiting stands, was filled 20 minutes before the game got under way, meaning a place to see the game was in high demand.

“We opened up right field and that was packed,” Gewecke said. “We opened up the gate on Eighth Street so they can look down the right-field line. There wasn’t a seat in the house by 3 o’clock. It was an electric atmosphere, that’s for sure.”

Alhambra (24-3) stormed back from a 4-0 deficit and beat Beckman, 6-4, to reach its first finals since 1927. The Moors will face Bonita on Friday at 1:30 at Dodger Stadium.

The celebration continued well after the game ended.

“The crowd stayed forever,” Gewecke said. “They got on the field, and there must have been 60 or more former players. It was like a big reunion.”

Gewecke even had former players he coached while at Mountain View.

“That’s what makes it so special when they come back to support you,” Gewecke said.

“You meet their children or you hear what they’re doing and they’re all doing well, and that’s how you know the people coming out of your program are quality people.”

Flip of the coin

Alhambra lost the coin flip and will be the designated visiting team on Friday while Temple City is the home team on Saturday.

Gewecke is now 1 for 9 in coin flips.

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Softball: Tough schedule has La Canada well prepared.

It only makes good sense when teams beef up their nonleague schedules. Add that to an already competitive schedule in league, and there are the makings of a team that is hopeful of being well-prepared for the playoffs.

That’s exactly the scenario La Canada finds itself in this season. The Spartans (25-4-1) are top-seeded in CIF-Southern Section Division 5 and are back in the postseason final where they’ll meet Beaumont on Saturday at 12:30 at Irvine’s Deanna Manning Stadium.

La Canada has been unchallenged during the playoffs, but then came Nipomo earlier this week and the Spartans were in a dogfight. Lauren Cox walked seven batters, and the Spartans didn’t score until the sixth inning in a 1-0 victory in the semifinals.

But thanks to a revamped schedule, La Canada has had what it takes to overcome adversity.

“This team has been able to take the challenges and learn from them and apply those lessons to games in the future,” La Canada coach KC Mathews said.

It started early in the season with key wins against division opponents such as San Dimas (3-2) and Arroyo (11-5). The Spartans also faced Fountain Valley and earned a 1-0 victory. There also were wins and losses in Orange County, where La Canada got past Marina (13-11) but came up short against Edison (3-0). Taking part in the Thousand Oaks tournament in the middle of the Rio Hondo League season also paid dividends. Sure, the Spartans lost to Dos Pueblos (1-0) and Thousand Oaks (4-1), but lessons were learned.

“This group really was capable of not focusing on wins and losses, but what we can learn from each game,” Mathews said. “They’ve done a great job of doing that this year and it’s helped us tremendously.”

It prepared La Canada for what turned out to be a strong league season in which La Canada and Monrovia played to a 14-inning scoreless tie and the Spartans lost to San Marino 3-2 at home.

“The Rio Hondo League does a great job of getting us prepared,” Mathews said. “When you’re facing (Monrovia pitcher) Adrienne (Guerra) and (San Marino’s) Michelle (Floyd) it can only help you get ready for the playoffs.

“We saw some of the best pitching around and it helped us prepare for this part of our season.”

They’re back

The consensus among Division 5 coaches was the Spartans would be back to the finals. La Canada is back to defend its title, but that never was a given for the Spartans.

“They’re excited and feel fortunate to be back there,” Mathews said. “They’re seeing their rewards for working hard, but we didn’t spend all year talking about getting back to the finals. That’s the result of all the work they’ve put in.”

And thanks to that tough schedule, the Spartans weren’t just waiting around getting ready for the title game. They didn’t have that luxury.

“The schedule that we played we didn’t have the luxury of looking past an Edison or a Hart or a Thousand Oaks or any of those teams,” Mathews said.

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Baseball: Alhambra headed to first finals since 1927.


Beckman comes up short in semifinals (The Orange County Register)

By Aram Tolegian, Staff Writer

ALHAMBRA – After falling behind visiting Beckman by four runs early in Tuesday’s CIF-Southern Section Division 3 semifinal, Dodger Stadium had to seem like it was a million miles away for the Alhambra High School baseball team.

Now, however, it’s the very first thing on the Moors’ radar.

Alhambra used a five-run rally in the fourth inning to post a 6-4 victory against Beckman and will play in the school’s first championship game since 1927. The Moors (24-3) will take on Bonita (31-2) and ace pitcher Justin Garza at 1:30 p.m. Friday at Dodger Stadium.

“This is for all the Moors,” Alhambra coach Steve Gewecke said. “It feels outstanding. Just look at all the people here.”

True, Alhambra couldn’t have asked for better fan support and the baseball gods obliged after making it seem early on that luck wasn’t on the Moors’ side.

Beckman used three seeing-eye singles, an error and a double to take a 2-0 lead in the second inning. The Patriots added two run-scoring singles in the third to go up 4-0.

“The idea was don’t let them score anymore,” Gewecke said. “Because I knew if they got a couple more it was going to be tough, especially with (James) Kaprielian waiting in the ‘pen.”

Alhambra scored once in the


third, then unleashed a display of small ball to put the Orange County visitors in big trouble. The Moors got five singles and used an error and a sacrifice fly to take a 6-4 lead.
“We got out of the inning (in the third), got one (in the third) and then we had our big inning and held on,” Gewecke said.

Beckman never unveiled ace Kaprielian, who is one of the top pitchers in the state and plans to play next season at UCLA. Instead, the Patriots went with starter Connor Deneen and two relievers. Kaprielian had pitched a complete game in last Friday’s win over Los Altos.

Alhambra’s pitching situation was a bit more settled. San Jose State-bound starter Gary Acuna started the game, then gave way to sophomore Marco Briones with two outs in the top of the fourth. Briones got out of the inning, then put the clamps on Beckman by shutting down the Patriots over the final three innings.

Briones struck out the first hitter of the seventh, then made things a bit uneasy by giving up a single to Torin Goldstein. Briones got the next two hitters to fly out and the celebration was on.

“They never give up,” Gewecke said of his team. “They never quit. They play seven innings. They believe in themselves. We’ve won games in a variety of ways this year. It didn’t surprise me that they came back.”

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Baseball: The dream continues for Temple City Rams.


St. Bonaventure shut out in Division 4 semis (Ventura County Star)

By Miguel A. Melendez, Staff Writer

VENTURA – The mantra during these playoffs for the Temple City High School baseball team has been a succinct yet paramount message delivered after every game from Rams coach Barry Bacon.

“Dare to dream to win one more.”

And with that in mind, no need to reach out and hit the snooze button.

Temple City kept its dream alive with a 2-0 semifinal victory against St. Bonaventure on Tuesday afternoon to send the Rams to their first appearance in the CIF-Southern Section Division 4 championship game.

Temple City (24-3-1) will face Palm Desert in Saturday’s final at 7:30 p.m. at UC Riverside. Regardless of the outcome, this certainly has been the Rams’ best playoff run in school history. Temple City previously reached the semifinals in 2007 and 1989 when they lost to Bishop Amat and El Segundo, respectively.

The long trips and inclement weather they’ve encountered during these playoffs haven’t derailed the Rams, and they proved it again after their second consecutive two-hour plus road game.

“I asked them for three more days of this effort,” Bacon said. “I told them to dare to dream here (in Ventura) and one more time (on Saturday).”

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Baseball: Monrovia’s stellar season ends in the desert.


Palm Desert reaches final (The Desert Sun)

By Keith Lair, Staff Writer

PALM DESERT – Top-seeded Palm Desert High School showed its fangs in the desert heat early in Tuesday night’s CIF-Southern Section Division 4 baseball semifinal game.

However, the Aztecs did not strike until the third inning. They got all of their runs in that inning to defeat Monrovia, 3-0, to advance to Saturday’s title game.

“You have to give credit to their pitcher,” Monrovia co-coach Brad Blackmore said. “We’re used to playing tight, low-scoring games, but you have to get something going offensively and it never quite happened.”

The Aztecs will be playing in their third consecutive CIF-SS championship game. The win foiled a Rio Hondo League rematch. The Aztecs will play Temple City at UC Riverside on Saturday night. The third-seeded Rams defeated St. Bonaventure, 2-0.

The Wildcats, a team many considered an underdog to get this far in the playoffs, showed their fangs, too. But the Wildcats could not get that run.

“It’s a very, very, very good team that we were playing,” Blackmore said. “We’ve played nothing but good teams and we’ve found ways to get things done, but we couldn’t get it going.

“We pitched pretty well and played pretty good defense. But at some point you have to break through and we just didn’t get any offense going.”

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Softball: Drange, Cox lead La Canada back to Irvine.

By Erik Boal, Staff Writer

LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE – Kelsey Drange wasn’t going to take a walk. Catherine Horner wasn’t going to let Nipomo run. And Lauren Cox wasn’t going accept anything less than a return to the CIF-Southern Section Division 5 softball final.

Drange’s full-count single inside the left-field line scored Katy Lee in the sixth for La Canada’s lone run, Horner threw out four baserunners and Cox overcame seven walks and a hit batter by striking out 13, lifting the host Spartans to a 1-0 semifinal victory Tuesday.

La Canada (25-4-1), the top seed, will face No. 2 Beaumont (25-4) – a 7-1 winner over Barstow – in a rematch of last year’s final Friday or Saturday at Deanna Manning Stadium in Irvine.

“I’m happy we held up our end of the bargain,” La Canada coach KC Mathews said. “But more than anything, I’m happy for these girls. I’m happy to see their hard work fulfilled. But the goal was not just to get there, the goal is to finish it off.”

The Spartans prevailed 1-0 in last year’s championship to capture their first division title since 1995. With Nipomo runners on first and second in the seventh, Cox (23-3) struck out the final two batters to extend La Canada’s postseason winning streak to nine in a row.

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Quarterfinals: WSGV baseball goes 3-for-3 as Alhambra makes first semifinals since 1948 with 4-2 win over Lancaster; Temple City is fueled by Ben Arrue’s grand slam in 6-2 win over Granite Hills; Monrovia grinds out 1-0 win over Jurupa Valley.

By Miguel A. Melendez, Staff Writer

LANCASTER — It’s hard to believe that as much success as Alhambra High School baseball coach Steve Gewecke has had in his 17 seasons with the program that only now the Moors are enjoying their best year yet.

Time to start believing.

For the first time since 1948, Alhambra is headed back to the semifinals after a 4-2 quarterfinals victory over Lancaster on Friday afternoon in the CIF-Southern Section Division 3 playoffs.

Alhambra (23-3) on Tuesday will face Beckman, which beat Los Altos, 2-1. The Moors likely will host the game at Moor Field since they’ve had only one home playoff game to Beckman’s two home playoff games, but that won’t be determined until the playoff brackets are updated over the weekend.

Regardless, Alhambra’s ecstatic about accomplishing the seemingly elusive feat.

“I don’t know if it’s quite hit yet,” said Gewecke, who for the first time as a head coach reaches the semifinals. “It’s amazing how many people are calling and texting. So many ex players have talked about how they’ll be there on Tuesday. It’s been a real fun bus ride so far.”

Gewecke reached the semifinals in 1995 as an assistant at Mountain View, and this quarterfinals appearance was Alhambra’s first since 1987.

The 150-mile round trip to Lancaster wasn’t ideal, much less the weather conditions that saw 30 mph winds for most of the game. Those obstacles, however, proved to be mere speed bumps for Alhambra (23-3), which again turned to sophomore Marco Briones to keep the magic going, and again he was brilliant.

The left-hander, coming off a near-perfect game in the second round before it was broken up in the seventh, was poised and maintained composure in pressure moments despite a boisterous standing-room only crowd letting him hear it as host Lancaster (17-12) made a valiant effort to break him, but to no avail.

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Softball: La Canada’s Lauren Cox tosses 1-hitter, records 20 strikeouts and helps Spartans advance to Tuesday’s semifinals with 7-0 victory over Mary Star of the Sea; Beaumont too much for Monrovia, 4-0.

By Dave Thorpe, Staff Writer

SAN PEDRO – Lauren Cox was even more masterful than her usual dominant self in the circle, and La Canada was opportunistic on offense during its 7-0 victory over Mary Star of the Sea in the CIF-Southern Section Division 5 quarterfinals on Thursday afternoon at the San Pedro Softball Complex.

Cox threw a one-hitter with 20 strikeouts to go along with three walks. Her performance propels La Canada (24-4-1) to the semifinals on Tuesday, when it will host Nipomo – a 1-0 winner at Hemet.

It marks the third straight semifinals appearance for La Canada, which captured a CIF-SS title last year.

Cox’s 20 strikeouts is a season high for a seven-inning game, but she amassed 23 strikeouts in a 14-inning 0-0 tie against Monrovia on March 27.

“It was nice because they had not seen me before, so it’s different,” Cox said. “I felt I had all of my pitches working, so I was excited about that.”

Cox credited her catcher and the confidence she has in her defense for the big effort.

“Catherine (Horner), our catcher, really gives me confidence to throw any pitch in any situation,” Cox said. “She’s a wall back there. We felt dominant working together and I know as a team, they have my back.”

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Football: Muir freshman Darick Holmes Jr., a running back/all-everything, picks up first offer from UCLA.

UCLA pulled the trigger on a freshman and offered Muir running back Darick Holmes Jr. a scholarship, according to his father. I covered Holmes Jr. this past season (check out his hightlights below) and he was just a beast from every point on the field: running back, wildcat, wide receiver, returning punts, etc. You can bet Holmes Jr. will get more offers on the way, so let the recruiting battle begin … Even if he can’t sign until 2016.

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Baseball: Alhambra’s Juan Morales knows the meaning of work, will lead Alhambra to first quarterfinals since 1987.

By Miguel A. Melendez, Staff Writer

ALHAMBRA – In less than four years, Alhambra High School’s Juan Morales has transformed from a pudgy catcher to the best defensive first baseman in Moors coach Steve Gewecke’s 17 seasons at the school.

It says a lot about Morales, who prior to moving to first base his sophomore year had never played the position. It speaks volumes for his strong work ethic, and that’s evident by his appearance: The senior captain has dropped 60 pounds since last November.

It was long before hitting the treadmill and eating healthier that Morales became the role model he is today. He’s helped lead Alhambra to its first quarterfinals appearance since 1987 as the Moors visit Lancaster on Friday in the CIF-Southern Section Division 3 playoffs.

Morales had a chance to play varsity as a sophomore.

“Coach said if I can hit that he’d find a place for me,” Morales said and, sure enough, first base became a competition.

Morales would have to compete against upperclassmen, so he went to work. After Alhambra practices, he’d head to Almansor Park with his father, Juan Sr., and younger brother Alex.

The two youngsters would work out fielding grounders for about an hour in hopes of familiarizing themselves with the infield.

Not long before the 2010 season started, Morales was named the starting first baseman.

Gewecke calls Morales the best defensive first baseman he’s ever had, quite a statement from a veteran coach.

“We thought he had soft hands,” Gewecke said. “He’s a big kid but he moves well. I’ve had some good ones at first base and I think he’s the best defensively.”

Morales believes hard work produces strong results, and he’s seen it first-hand with his father being a prime example. His dad came to the U.S. from Guadalajara, Mexico, about 20 years ago and it wasn’t long before he rose up the ranks, going from pizza delivery driver to owning his very own franchise of Little Caesars Pizza. He’s close to owning a second.

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