There’s more baseball history in Long Beach than there is paper to print it, but Friday night’s CIF-SS Division 3 championship at Bohl Diamond at Blair Field will live forever as one of the all-time highlights. At the end of a tumultuous school year where COVID-19 dominated the headlines, the Millikan baseball team made history on the field they’d spent the whole year dreaming about getting to play on. In front of a loud and rowdy Long Beach crowd, the Rams shut out Arlington to win the Division 3 title, 2-0.
It’s the sixth CIF-SS title in Millikan baseball history and the first since 1992; it’s also the first-ever championship shutout for the Rams.
“It’s easy to say everybody’s gone through a lot, but this group has gone through a lot and there’s a lot people don’t know about,” said Rams coach Ron Keester. “But the way they stuck together, the way they’ve gone and handled themselves during the pandemic and then after we came back, it was a true testament to the group of 22 that we have. They made each other better, they played hard, they like each other. This was a dream season to me. These are the kind of guys who you envision being champions, the ones who have overcome so much. And the fact that they love each other–that says everything right there. I’m just proud of them.”
The Rams won the championship the way they’ve won all of their playoff games: with great pitching and defense, and timely hitting to boot. Millikan only gave up two runs in their five playoff games, outsourcing opponents 22-2. On the mound Friday was senior lefty Cameron Sims, who went 3.1 innings and yielded just one hit. Daniel Murillo came in in relief and gave up just two hits in 3.2 innings.
“I knew I was going to start yesterday, and I knew it was going to be huge,” said Sims, who was a little shaky at the start before gaining command of his changeup. “I lost a few, and then coach came out and got on me and I was like, yeah, that’s right. That’s right.”
Murillo pitched well in relief, and said his defense helped to fire him up.
“I wasn’t expecting to come in that early, but it was just go in and throw strikes, do your job and let them make outs,” he said. “Those guys they’re just all crazy, on the field and off. We always have each other’s backs, and we always support each other.”
The Rams defense made a number of good plays behind their pitchers. In the first inning, Arlington’s Austin Mojarro reached on a single. But rightfielder Gabe Ceja made a running catch on the next batter, and then threw out Mojarro before he could get back to first. Catcher Troy Harding was great behind the dish, catching a pair of pop-ups. Third baseman Sam DeCarlo made a trio of great plays at third, including two in the sixth and seventh inning to stop what looked like rally-starters on hard-hit grounders down the line.
The Rams got on the board with the game’s only runs in the bottom of the third inning, after Tyler Bermundo and Harding opened the inning with a single and a double. Adding to the feeling that it was just the Rams’ night was that Harding got the green light to swing away after failing to get a bunt down–then promptly ripped a double that put he and Bermundo in scoring position.
The Rams wasted no time in cashing those runs in, as Anthony Godfrey and Bilal Ali got RBI grounders to make it 2-0.
Godfrey was hitting last in the lineup and had plenty of hard-hit balls find gloves this playoffs, but he kept grinding and believing he’d have his playoff moment–it was a huge moment, with the go-ahead RBI in the championship.
“I’ve been working every day in the backyard hitting off the tee, my dad flipping it up in the air, at the cages, just getting extra work in,” he said. “Not taking anything off, just working for that moment.”
Ali made some smooth plays at second base and shortstop in addition to the clutch RBI as well. He said the championship moment wasn’t too big for the Rams.
“We worked hard for this, we worked for everything, and we knew exactly what to do,” he said. “You just got to stay poised and keep breathing and stay focused. We came up together, we’ve all known each other for so long. Freshman year we used to talk about this. Now that we’re here it’s amazing. It’s indescribable.”
All of the players and coaches talked about what a huge difference the enormous Millikan crowd made.
“It was phenomenal,” said Harding. “Every time something big happened you just heard the roar of the crowd. Just everyone standing behind you, the support from Long Beach was crazy.”
“The crowd was on our side for sure,” said DeCarlo. “It really helped being in Long Beach and having everyone behind us.”
Junior pitcher Myles Patton has been the hero of the postseason for the Rams, pitching 20 innings and giving up just two runs while striking out 31. Patton had used up his innings eligibility with a complete-game effort in the shutout, but still had a huge defensive play with a great stretch pick at first on a throw from Ali.
“This is one of the best days of my life, we’ve been working so hard and everything’s been leading to this,” said Patton. “It was the biggest game of our lives, and to be a part of this group it’s just the best thing I’ve ever been a part of. It’s really something special.”
That was a feeling echoed by all the players and coaches as well. Everyone was aware during this season that this was a special year, not just because of the bizarre circumstances around COVID-19–which saw them not certain they’d get a single game at Blair for most of the year–but because of the love between everyone in the program.
For Rams alum Ron Keester, his coaching staff of fellow alums Kevin Gail and Paul Slater adding Millikan coaching legend Dan Peters this season made it even more special.
“Coach Gail is the best number two coach anywhere, he’s a better coach than me,” said Keester. “I’m lucky to have him and I’m lucky to have coach Slater. And then when we added Dan this year, he filled a hole that I didn’t know we needed filled. Him coming in made us complete, he brought a lot of final touches. Without those three, without coach Gail calling our pitches and creating his gameplans, none of this happens.”
Gail’s gameplan Friday was on point, as it has been all playoffs. He had Sims go heavy on his changeup, having scouted that Arlington was a big-swinging team. Then when Murillo came in he called a lot of high heat, correctly guessing they’d have trouble catching up. Sure enough, Murillo was popping up batters all over the place, including for the last out of the game, which landed in the glove of birthday boy Dean Ormonde.
The coaches might have been even better equipped than the players to appreciate the big Long Beach crowd on hand, which included fellow Moore League coaches and players.
“They helped our kids so much, it fired them up to see those people in the stands, to hear them calling their names,” he said. “Our kids didn’t know all of them, they didn’t know those were Big Leaguers or alums, but they felt the love. It was so nice that it was at Blair–it was better here than at Dodger or Angel Stadium, it was just that much more special.”