Dan Berry, coach of the Crescenta Valley High School softball team, goes through the same routine before every game. He gets up at the same time, eats the same breakfast, wears the same blue shirt and worries about the same things.
Berry admits it's superstitious, but after posting his fourth straight Pacific League title, he's not about to change the procedure.
The routine will be the same today as Crescenta Valley, ranked No. 4 in the CIF 3-A Division with a 19-4 record, faces Culver City in the opening round of the CIF softball playoffs at 3 p.m. at Two Strike Park in La Crescenta.
"We're the the most superstitious bunch of people you have ever met," said Berry. "And nothing's going to change."
There is little reason to mess with success.
Bad Start, Great Finish
After a rocky 6-4 start, the Falcons caught fire, stringing together 11 straight victories and two forfeits to establish the best record in the school's four-year softball history. Three of the Falcons' losses were one-run decisions to Burbank, Burroughs (Burbank) and El Dorado, all top-ranked in 4-A.
"I don't look at it as winning, I look at it as a job they do as a team," said Berry. "If we go onto the field and present ourselves with pride as Crescenta Valley High School and do the best we can, winning will take care of itself."
The fact that the Falcons have five returning all-league players does not hurt the team's chances in the playoffs, either.
Lisa Erickson, a second-team All-CIF selection as a junior last year, heads the list, which includes catcher Landa Temple, second basemen Krista Miller and center fielder Denise Hulst, all seniors, and junior first basemen Deneil Dover.
Crescenta Valley also has talented young players, including sophomore pitcher Heather Lindstrom. Although plagued by injuries throughout the season, the slight 5-6 Lindstrom has claimed 17 of the Falcons' 19 victories.
"We have some tremendous athletes on this team," said Berry. "There are some people on our bench who would be starting on any other team in the league."
Crescenta Valley has definitely needed its depth. When freshman shortstop Karen Anderson, batting .340 in 16 games, was declared academically ineligible, junior Michelle Bednar moved from the outfield to play short.
Bednar, batting .393, quickly responded by hitting two home runs in the 4-1 victory over Hart to help the Falcons capture the Hart Softball Tournament championship in April.
But Berry is not going to let his talent-rich team's recent success go to his players' heads against Culver City, which finished third in the Ocean League and fashioned a 14-6 overall record. He says he has learned from his mistakes.
"We went in overconfident two years ago and played a third-place team from Riverside and allowed them to beat us, so we have to be careful that we're not overconfident and play one game at a time," said Berry, whose team last year lost to Sonora in the quarterfinals, 1-0.
"All I can say is that if the girls continue to hit as they have all year, we'll do fine."
Rallied Against Arcadia
The Falcons tuned up their bats against Arcadia last week. The team rallied from an early 3-1 deficit to beat the Apaches, 7-4, for the second time this year and complete its first perfect Pacific League season at 10-0.
"They did not want to go through the motions in their last league game this year. They've said, '10-0, four in a row' all year long, which means 10 league victories and four league championships, and they did it," Berry said.
Leading the cry for a perfect league record was Erickson. The four-year starting third baseman leads the team with a .400 average and 28 hits entering the playoffs.
"The key to the playoffs will be getting Lisa on base," said Berry.
Once on base, Erickson, the Falcons' lead-off hitter, is almost unstoppable. Of her 42 times on base this season, Erickson has scored 28 times.
"She's intensely competitive. She would not even want to lose a game of marbles or checkers," said Berry about Erickson, who batted .410 last year.
"You can have a girl on the team that's going to try to motivate the team and tell them what to do but not do it herself. But Lisa has the athletic ability to do what's she's asking others to do."
While Erickson, sophomore designated hitter Leilani Artis (also with a .400 average) and Deneil Dover (.359) lead the Crescenta Valley hitters, Lindstrom (17-4) is virtually a one-girl pitching staff.
"Her control is unbelievable. She will make you hit her pitch and then when you do get ahold of it, it's a weak hit on the ground," said Berry about the 16-year-old who has a 0.60 ERA in 128 innings.
Lindstrom's stellar performance has Berry wondering what she can do when she's healthy. Throughout the season, the right-hander has been hampered by a pulled muscle in each leg and a pinched sciatic nerve.
"My injuries bother me a lot when I pitch, especially in the legs," said the 107-pound Lindstrom. "It seems to get worse every time I pitch and it's not going to get any better until I stop pitching for a while."
But Lindstrom, who takes frequent trips to a chiropractor for ultrasound treatment and muscle relaxation sessions, does not plan to slow down until after the playoffs.
"I can't, the team needs me," said Lindstrom, who has also recorded nine shutouts and 114 strikeouts.