Column: Chatsworth earns trip to Dodger Stadium with seventh-inning rally

When Josh Pollack of Chatsworth got the strikeout in the bottom of the seventh inning to complete a 4-3 comeback victory over Roosevelt on Wednesday afternoon in the City Section Open Division baseball semifinal, he threw up his glove and ran into the arms of catcher Isaiah Granados, who lifted him up and looked ready to carry him to Dodger Stadium as teammates joined in the celebration.

“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” said Chatsworth’s Jose Ruedas, who is expected to get the start on the mound in Saturday’s 1 p.m. championship game at Dodger Stadium, where the Chancellors will play either Lake Balboa Birmingham or Woodland Hills El Camino Real.

Chatsworth (15-14) came into the tournament as the No. 9 seed out of 12 teams but is still alive as the Chancellors follow the guidance of coach Marcus Alvarado.

“He tells us never give up,” second baseman Octavio Bonilla said.

Chatsworth defeated No. 8 Carson, No. 1 Granada Hills and now No. 5 Roosevelt to get to the final. Three times with the bases loaded at USC’s Dedeaux Field, Chatsworth batters struck out against Roosevelt ace Lino Zepeda through five innings. But Zepeda reached 105 pitches (the limit is 115), forcing a pitching change that gave the Chancellors hope because they had scored just one time in 12 innings against Zepeda this season.

In the seventh inning trailing 2-1 against reliever Andrew Contreras, Jonathan Cerda singled and Barry Menjivar walked. That brought up Bonilla, a transfer from Granada Hills Kennedy, where Alvarado used to coach. Bonilla had to sit out last season because of the transfer.

“I was about to pinch-hit for him,” Alvarado said. “Luckily I didn’t.”

Bonilla hit a fly ball to right field. Zepeda, who took over in the outfield, misplayed the ball after going to his left. It rolled to the fence for a two-run triple to tie the score. Then, on a ground ball to first base, Bonilla came home and beat the throw for the winning run.

Chatsworth used to be the standard for excellence in City baseball when Tom Meusborn was winning nine City titles but the Chancellors haven’t won at Dodger Stadium since 2009. Alvarado left Kennedy after five years as coach to take a crack at returning the Chatsworth program to its glory years.

“We’re back where we should be,” he said. “I understand we’re not the traditional Chatsworth powerhouse. We instilled what this program is about and the demands of what this program is. The guys are buying in at the right time.”

Chatsworth pitcher Joseph Saenz threw six innings, allowing five hits. Roosevelt took a 2-0 lead on a two-run bloop single by Elijah Salazar in the third inning. Then it was a matter of whether Chatsworth would be able to chase Zepeda. The pitch count finally got him off the mound. Now Chatsworth’s No. 1 pitcher, Ruedas, is ready to go. He has pitched well in big games all season and gets his moment to be on a field every City Section baseball player wants to step on.

“Life-long dream — 17 years,” Ruedas said. “This is the hype. We get to play at USC, we get to play at Dodger Stadium.”

Alvarado has some tough shoes to follow. His father, Manny, was 5-0 in championship games at Kennedy. The fact he already has followed his dad and Meusborn, legendary coaches in City Section history, provides a profile in courage.

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