Kyle Smith celebrates his game winning walk-off single in Torrance’s 4-3 9 inning victory over Laguna Beach in CIF baseball division 4 semifinals. Photo by Ray Vidal
Their home fields sit only four miles apart, yet the baseball teams from Torrance and South Torrance will travel more than 64 miles to decide which team is the best.
After finishing as co-champions of the Pioneer League and splitting their two-game series, South (25-8) and Torrance (27-8) will play the rubber game Saturday at 4 p.m. at UC Riverside to determine the CIF Southern Section Division 4 champion.
Originally scheduled as the marquee game at 7:30 p.m., the contest was moved to 4 p.m. so the seniors on South’s team could attend their prom in Santa Ana.
Both teams are coming off dramatic victories to reach the finals. South rallied for five runs in the top of the seventh inning to pull out a 5-1 win at California. Torrance had to come back from a 3-0 deficit to beat visitng Laguna Beach. The Tartars scored three runs in the bottom sixth to send the game into extra innings. Kyle Smith’s single in the bottom of the ninth gave Torrance the 4-3 win.
“Playing South is the match-up we wanted,” Torrance third baseman Manny Olloque said. “We’ve never won a CIF title and doing it against our rival would be extra special. We really want that ring.”
This marks the second consecutive year that South Bay teams face each other with a CIF title on the line. Last season at Dodger Stadium, Serra of Gardena defeated Manhattan Beach’s Mira Costa squad 8-1 to capture the Division 3 crown.
South Torrance head coach Grady Sain.
“It is great for the City of Torrance, the South Bay and the Pioneer League,” South head coach Grady Sain said. “It’s a great accomplishment for both schools. There has been some excellent baseball played in the South Bay this year given the accomplishments of other area teams. This is special. I don’t know how many times there has been a CIF title on the line with two Torrance Schools competing. Our players are excited, our players are ready.”
Pioneer League softball teams have met in championship games during the last decade. In 2008, North Torrance’s softball team defeated league champion Torrance 2-1 for the Division 4 championship after the Saxons placed third in league. The following season, North repeated as champions defeating Pioneer rival El Segundo in the championship game.
Saturday’s baseball game will help showcase the talent in the Pioneer League. South and Torrance both defeated Bay League champion West in non-league games this season. South edged the Warriors 3-2 on March 26 and Torrance routed West 11-1 on April 9.
West leaves the Bay League and returns to the Pioneer League next season grouping all four high schools in the Torrance Unified School District together.
But the Torrance-South rivalry goes much deeper than city bragging rights.
The past two seasons the teams tied for first in the Pioneer League after splitting each series and both head coaches have played many games against each other even before joining the coaching ranks.
Ollie Turner returned to coach Torrance in 2005 after playing for the Tartars during his prep career. South head coach Grady Sain played against Turner as a shortstop at West Torrance when both teams were in the Pioneer League.
The rivalry continued when the two faced each other with the southpaw pitcher Turner playing for Harbor College and Sain a member of El Camino’s squad. The competition between the two extended to the university level when Turner played at UC Davis in 1998-99 and Sain played at Chico State.
“Coach Turner and I have competed against each other since we were in high school,” Sain said. “There is a history of respect there. He has done great things with the Torrance Baseball Program. We really enjoy the competition.”
Torrance head coach Ollie Turner
Sain, who is in his eight season at South, has led the Spartans to the playoffs in six of last seven years. Prior to taking over the reins at South, Sain was the head coach at San Pedro, leading the Pirates to a 31-4 record and L.A. City championship in 2004.
South has not appeared in the finals since winning the 4A division championship in 1984. South won the 3A title in 1980.
Turner said he has the utmost respect for Sain and the two are friends off the field.
“Even with El Segundo in the league, South has become our biggest rival,” Turner said. “Grady and I even discussed having a game after the season to determine the better team. Then it was said ‘Let’s just meet in the finals and play it then.’ Fortunately, it’s worked out that way.
“I expect it to be a well-pitched game. Whichever team makes the plays, puts a couple of hits together and executes will win.”
Turner hopes his team will end a near century-old drought. Founded in 1917, Torrance has never won a CIF title in baseball. The Tartars reached the finals in 2009 and 2010 but were defeated by San Dimas and Palm Desert, respectively.
Saturday’s championship game will feature two of the top pitchers in the South Bay. South senior Matt Mogollon (10-4) has an ERA of .193 with 75 strikeouts in 83.1 innings. Opponents have a batting average of .250 against him.
His counterpart is senior southpaw Smith (11-1) who has amassed 99 strikeouts in 80.2 innings while holding opposing batters to a paltry .166 average.
“We expect a well played baseball game,” Sain said. “We will be ready, and so will they. Our focus is right where it should be.”
Offensively, South is batting .301 as a team and will be led by infielder Kawika Hubbell (.381, 19 RBI, 2 home runs), infielder Kyle Henmi (.358, 28 runs, 18 RBI), utility player Taylor Carmona (.342, 5 doubles), outfielder Sam Camacho (.347) and catcher Matt Mavrosakis (.288) who leads the Spartans with 21 RBI and 6 doubles.
Torrance is batting .304 as a team and is led by third baseman Olloque who leading team with a .410 batting average, 36 RBI, 16 doubles and 3 home runs. Second baseman Robert Sylvester (.343) leads the team in runs scored (34) and stolen bases (12).
Also contributing to the Tartar’s potent offense are Tyler Martizia (.378, 23 RBI, 11 doubles), Dominic Haynes (.306, 20 RBI) and Smith (.346).