SAMOHI — The Vikings must have done something big on Thursday to make their usually stoic head coach crack a smile.
Santa Monica High School’s baseball team completed a late-season resurgence by defeating arch-rival Culver City, 7-3, at home to finish the season as Ocean League champs.
And Head Coach Sheldon Philip-Guide was all smiles as his team celebrated their league crown.
“Everything that we went through is paying off,” Philip-Guide said. “Everything from the preseason to the fall league, everything we’ve done got us ready for this.”
The team’s strong finish was difficult to predict as the Vikings opened the season 1-9 in preseason play, looking nothing like a team that would finish the league season 10-0.
But, as Philip-Guide said, all of those hard times helped the team dig deep enough to turn that around and finish the season 13-16 overall.
While the Vikings ended the day as title holders, the game was initially a tough slog.
Culver City struck first with a run in the first inning off of starter Andrew McRitchie. The Vikings responded with two of their own in the bottom half of the inning, but Culver City wasn’t backing down. The Centaurs would eventually tie the game in the third inning, but the real scare came in the fourth with the score still tied.
After retiring the first two batters of the inning, McRitchie walked a pair of runners with another reaching on an error to load the bases. Philip-Guide wasted little time bringing in junior relief pitcher Albert Garcia with the bases juiced.
Garcia calmly induced Culver City’s Lucas O’Conner to fly out harmlessly to left field to end the threat.
On the heels of Garcia’s hold, the Vikings erupted for four runs in the bottom of the fourth highlighted by third baseman Danny Galvan’s RBI-double to left field that scored Trent Nelson, who doubled the previous at bat.
Garcia said the insurance runs helped him stay composed as he went on to complete the game, earning the win in the process.
“I was just trying to get ahead in the count,” Garcia said of his approach. “I was just glad to be out there throwing strikes.”
In defeat, Culver City’s longtime head coach Rick Prieto said that his team did a few things right, but ultimately let a lack of execution cost them a potential league title.
“[Samohi] came to play and we didn’t,” Prieto flatly said. “They played hard, they have a lot of talent.
“But, the thing is, they always play with a little swagger.”
Samohi junior outfielder/pitcher Adam Padilla couldn’t help but crack a smile when told of what Prieto said, nodding his head as if to acknowledge that his team carries themselves with a little something extra.
“We’re just more confident now,” Padilla said. “I think we finally have some chemistry.”
The Vikings must wait until Sunday to find out who and where they will be playing in the playoffs, but Philip-Guide said that he just wants his players to savor the championship for the time being.
“The kids deserve it,” he said.