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.