The Granada Hills High baseball team didn't know much about Grant pitcher Rodney Beck before Thursday night's City 4-A championship game between the two teams at Dodger Stadium.
"I've never even seen the guy; I've just seen him in the paper," Granada Hills shortstop Greg Fowble said a few days before the game. "He's got an ugly mug."
That's debatable, but Beck confirmed Thursday that he's at least a beauty of a pitcher.
Beck, a senior right-hander, limited Granada Hills to just three singles, as the Lancers defeated the Highlanders, 5-1, for their first City baseball championship before a crowd of about 6,000.
Granada Hills, which entered the playoffs as the top-seeded team, lost in the finals for the first time after winning five titles in the past 11 years.
Beck, who improved his record to 13-1, struck out seven and walked two. After a few shaky innings, Beck was in complete control, giving up only one hit in the last four innings. Beck was the winner in all four playoff games for Grant (20-5), which entered the playoffs seeded second.
Granada Hills (17-6), which scored 39 runs in its first three playoff games, could not advance a runner past first base after the third inning.
"I had a feeling we were going to close it up after we got a 2-1 lead," said Beck, who was named the tournament's most valuable player. "I felt I had everything going well enough to close it out from there."
Beck pitched 27 innings in the playoffs, giving up three earned runs and 17 hits. He struck out 35 and walked nine batters.
"The first few innings he was kind of flat," Grant catcher Sean Pettway said. "But he got better after a couple of innings. The knuckleball was working and the curve was there."
Said losing pitcher Sean Casey: "He's a good pitcher. But he wasn't devastating. We should have hit him hard."
Casey was hitless in three at-bats.
After falling behind briefly, 1-0, Grant took command of the game with a two-out, four-run outburst in the second inning. Casey (11-5) walked Donny Hussey with one out, and after Harlan Berk grounded out, he walked Matt Simpson. David Waco then hit a ground ball to Fowble, whose throw to first skipped past Mark Kessler. Waco was awarded a single, while Hussey scored on Fowble's throwing error.
Juan Guerrero singled to left, scoring Simpson for a 2-1 Grant lead. Then with Guerrero breaking for second, Pettway singled to the spot vacated by Dan Takahashi, driving home Waco for a 3-1 Grant advantage. Beck then smashed a shot off third baseman Scott Tosti's glove for another error and another run.
Grant's final run came in the sixth when Pettway doubled to right center, scoring pinch-runner Juan Doroteo from first base. It was Pettway's third hit of the game.
Granada Hills got its only run in the second, mainly because of Grant's defensive woes. Tosti led off the inning with a single to right and advanced to second when Beck threw the ball away on an attempted pick-off.
After Takahashi walked, Sean Brown struck out, but the third strike eluded Pettway, advancing runners to second and third. On the first pitch to Kessler, Pettway let the ball get by him for his third passed ball in two innings. Tosti sped home for a 1-0 Granada Hills lead.
The Highlanders had chances in both the first and third innings, as Fowble reached third in both frames. Fowble led off the game by striking out, but reached second when Pettway dropped the ball, then threw it into right field. Dean Yoshitani bunted Fowble to third, bringing Bob Allen to the plate.
Fowble apparently stole home when he dashed to the plate as Beck fiddled with the ball on the mound. But Fowble was sent back to third because time had been called. Allen fouled a squeeze bunt away, then struck out. Casey then grounded out to end the threat.
Fowble led off the third with a single, stole second and moved to third when Pettway threw the ball into center field. Yoshitani then walked but was caught stealing. Beck then struck out Allen and Casey to thwart the Highlanders.
Casey was replaced in the fourth, after his wildness nearly put Granada Hills in a bigger hole. Waco started the inning with a single off Casey's glove. Guerrero then bunted back to Casey, who slipped and had no play. Casey drew an error. Each team committed three errors in the game.
After Pettway hit into a double play, Casey walked Beck and Peterson, his fourth and fifth walks of the game, to load the bases. After throwing two balls to Danny Karpin, Casey was replaced by Brett Browning, who got Karpin to ground out.
"Beck had all his pitches going," Grant Coach Tom Lucero said. "It was a key to keep Granada Hills off balance and we did it today."
And what if the two teams played again today?
"There's no doubt in my mind we'd beat them," Kessler said.
But the Lancers won Thursday, leaving the Highlanders with no tomorrow.