Wednesday was Senior Day for Hollywood High's baseball program, the annual rite of passage when senior players are celebrated in their last home game at the high school.
The Sheiks were clearly in a free-spirited mood, enjoying each other's company while presumably routing a winless Belmont team.
Then an actual baseball game broke out, threatening the jubilant mood of the day. Luckily, Jose Chavez was there to ensure the seniors would go out winners.
Chavez's two-run home run in the sixth inning sparked a six-run Hollywood rally, culminating in a 9-4 victory at Hollywood High.
Sheiks Coach Cary Cauley summed it up best as his star catcher rounded the bases.
"Thank God for that kid," he said.
Hollywood has one game left on its schedule — on Monday at Belmont, but the Sheiks (16-5 overall, 11-2 in league) are already locked into second place in the Southern League behind Maywood Academy (19-3, 14-0). The seedings for the City Section Division II playoffs will be announced next Wednesday morning, with Hollywood likely to earn a Top Five seed.
Wednesday was about taking care of business, however, which Hollywood did. Isidro Torres struck out 12 batters over six innings, but was in line to get the loss after giving up three runs in the sixth.
Hollywood had a rally in its bones, though. George Onate singled to right field with one out in the home half of the sixth, bringing up Chavez, who lofted a fly ball over the short fence in right.
"He threw me a high and away pitch and I just went with it," said Chavez, who went 2-for-4 on the day. "Luckily the fence was short and today it was counted as a home run."
Staying sharp against lesser opponents has been a struggle all season long for Hollywood, and Wednesday was another example. Belmont has very few capable players on its team, and not even a third-base coach to call its own. In truth, it's the type of team the Sheiks should've beaten by mercy rule.
That they were losing with five outs to go really says something about a lack of focus that can permeate the roster at times — a habit that hasn't escaped Cauley's attention. He sternly warned his players afterward that "playing down" to the level of an opponent can lead to a disappointing early exit from the playoffs.
"I think they like to keep me interested because I was about to lose it," Cauley joked.
Cauley then got serious, explaining that he doesn't have the team that can just expect things to go its way.
"We're not good enough where we can just walk out and talent is going to pull us through," he said. "We have to execute and stay focused. We don't have the six or seven college-bound ballplayers that can just turn it on and swing the stick."
Luckily, Cauley has at least one such player in Chavez to clean up the mess.
"He's the kid I know when he comes up to bat, he's going to do something," Cauley said. "If there's a big spot, I know he's going to come through."
Torres pitched another strong game for Hollywood and, paired with Chavez, gives the Sheiks a formidable 1-2 rotation punch for the playoffs.
Shortstop Jose Henriquez thinks the team will be a tough out when the playoffs begin a week from Tuesday.
"I think we have what it takes to get to Dodger Stadium to play in that championship game and even win it," he said.
Henriquez is one of the Sheiks' three co-captains , but he is the unquestioned emotional center of the team. On Senior Day, he reflected on the beginning of the end of his run at Hollywood.
"I've thought about it day in and day out," he said. "It stinks to come to reality and know this is the last season I have wearing a Hollywood uniform. I just hope we can keep playing and go further."