Bell claims City Section Open Division baseball title over Birmingham

Get ready for a parade and maybe some keys to the city.

A group of teenage baseball players from Bell High made history on Saturday afternoon at Dodger Stadium, winning the school’s first City Section Open Division championship with a 4-1 defeat of defending champion Birmingham.

Sophomore Jayden Rojas, embracing the pressure and significance of pitching on his field of dreams, threw six shutout innings. His most impressive moment came in the sixth inning when Birmingham loaded the bases with none out on a hit batter, error and bunt single. Rojas escaped by getting a strikeout on a 3-and-2 pitch and two fly-ball outs. As he walked off the mound, he was surrounded by pumped-up teammates and fans were chanting, “M-V-P, M-V-P, M-V-P.”

“When I went to the dugout, I couldn’t believe it hearing the city of Bell saying, ‘MVP.’ It made me feel proud,” Rojas said.

“They’re a good team that battles and doesn’t give in,” Birmingham coach Matt Mowry said. “When the pressure was on, they didn’t fold.”

What a pitching duel it was, with Michael Figueroa of Birmingham opposing Rojas. Figueroa’s command and ability to throw strikes gave the Eagles few opportunities through five innings of a scoreless game.

Their best chance was in the second inning when a pinch runner tried to score from second on a ground ball off the glove of first baseman Trevor Sostman. Sostman was able to recover, pick up the ball and make the throw to catcher Nick Penaranda in time for the out at the plate.

Then, in the sixth, with two outs, Gustavo Ramirez reached on an infield single, just beating the throw from Figueroa. He moved to second on a wild pitch and scored on a single by David Gonzalez, who also drove in the only run for Bell in its 1-0 semifinal win over Granada Hills. The Eagles added three runs in the seventh on a bases-loaded walk and two-run single by Ramirez.

Meanwhile, Rojas’ poise showed throughout. Each time he got a third out to keep his scoreless string alive, he’d walk off the mound waving his fist. The 15-year-old is a big Dodgers fan, and he said earlier in the week it was his dream to pitch at Dodger Stadium.

His execution and effectiveness have already stamped him as one of the best pitchers in the City Section. And he had two hits Saturday. He came off the mound in the seventh after a leadoff walk to a standing ovation from Bell fans. Another sophomore, Rigoberto Baltazar, finished off the Patriots.

Gonzalez, a sophomore, twice delivered clutch RBI singles this week.

“I just love it,” he said. “You have to live for it.”

Bell pitchers allowed one run in playoff victories over Sylmar, Granada Hills and Birmingham. The Eagles all week refused to be intimidated, making the routine plays and getting stellar play at the catcher position from Nomar Solis. It was defense and pitching that helped the Eagles take down the best teams from the San Fernando Valley.

For Bell, its historic season relying on a talented group of underclassmen won’t be soon forgotten. Yes, the Eagles made it to the final before — winning Division III in 1987 — but they hadn’t been to an upper division final since 1953. These players showed poise, feistiness and fearlessnees when taking on more highly touted players and programs urged on by coach Frank Medina, who used to coach football and was fiery and unyielding in pushing his players to succeed.

The team is loaded with freshmen and sophomores. They get to play in the state regionals with a 22-6 record.

“I’d love a parade,” Gonzalez said.

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