Blast from the Past: Tuesday, June 10, 2003
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
It may not have been Coach Russ Howard’s most talented team, but the 2003 Palisades High squad remains the only team in school history to capture a City baseball championship at Dodger Stadium.
In the “feel good” story of the year, the Dolphins turned their skipper’s final game into a laugher, completing an improbable run to the Invitational Division crown with a 10-0 rout of Granada Hills in five innings at Chavez Ravine. Senior left-hander Dylan Forrester tossed a one-hitter and sophomore shortstop Dylan Cohen nearly hit a home run, ripping a line drive off the left field fence two yards to the right of the foul pole, 360 feet from home plate.
“The feeling I have is indescribable,” senior outfielder Jeff Megee remarked afterward. “It’s been a dream of mine since I was three years old to play at Dodger Stadium. When we got on the bus [assistant coach] Kelly Loftus said ‘Let’s win this one for Coach Howard’ and we went out there and did it.”
Only a questionable decision by the official scorer on a hard ground ball to third base in the fourth inning separated Forrester from a no-hitter. He pitched with poise, striking out four, walking two and allowing three fly balls to the outfield.
“A friend of mine told me today that I was going to start and I was a little surprised,” Forrester said. “I thought I’d be the guy to come in and close it out. It was a little nerve-racking at first. The stadium is so much bigger. After the first out I was more relaxed. I felt like I was hitting my spots.”
The seventh-seeded Dolphins (21-9) got stellar defensive play from Cohen, second baseman Matt Skolnik and right fielder Byron Brooks. Cohen and Evan Reis each had three hits and drove in two runs while Spencer Kirksey, Adam Franks, Niles Cook and Ron Michel all added key hits against the fourth-seeded Highlanders (15-18).
“Yeah, it’s cool to be able to end it like this,” said Howard, who announced before the playoffs that he was stepping down after 17 seasons to spend more time with his family. “We finished the season playing great baseball. That’s all I can ask. I’m proud of what these guys accomplished.Through the ups and downs, we never gave up. That’s the mark of a good team. I sympathize with Granada Hills because our team has been on the wrong end of a score like that many times.”
Howard, now the school’s Assistant Principal in Charge of Athletics, left several lasting legacies at Palisades. He was responsible for the Dolphins’ baseball field being named after George Robert, a former Pali High teacher and longtime athletics supporter who died of a heart attack in May 2002 at the age of 86. Howard came up with the team motto of “Class-Hustle-Pride.” He also initiated the program’s primary fundraiser, the annual alumni game, which he started in 1987 upon taking over for Jerry Marvin.
Howard’s only other trip to Dodger Stadium came in his third season in 1989 when the Dolphins lost to Kennedy 4-3 in the City 4A final, so the last act of this drama on the afternoon of Tuesday, June 10, 2003, was a fitting curtain call.
Palisades looked more like a club that deserved to be playing for the City championship later that same day, when Chatsworth blanked Carson 3-0 to capture its third title in five years.
“Not in my wildest dreams did I imagine we would win this big,” said Cook, a senior center fielder who singled and scored two runs. “This is an absoulte dream come true. To be honest, though, winnin g it for Coach Howard is what means the most to me. The only way he was going to win his last game was for us to go all the way. We were happy to be here, but believe me, we wanted to win.”
Palisades wasted little time getting on the scoreboard. Reis doubled down the left field line and Kirksey followed with an RBI single to right to make it 1-0 in the first inning. The Dolphins doubled their lead in the second when Franks scored from third on a wild pitch.
Cohen’s near homer led to a two-run single by Brooks that chased Highlanders starter Jeff Rodner. The Dolphins racked up 14 hits in all on the way to a mercy win, but for each timely hit came a defensive gem.
Cohen and Skolnik turned an inning-ending double play in the third, Kirksey dove head first into the opposing dugout to catch a foul ball in the fourth and Brooks made a running catch in right field to prevent an extra base hit in the fifth inning.
Michel’s RBI single gave the Dolphins a 6-0 lead in the fourth. Megee singled to open the fifth and moved to second in Skolnik’s textbook sacrifice bunt up the third base line. Cook grounded to shortstop, but an errant throw to first allowed another run to score and Cook took second on the play. Cohen singled to score Cook and suddenly Palisades was two runs away from automatic victory.
Reis singled and a wild pitch advanced him to second and Cohen to third. After Kirksey fouled out, Nick Kaufman pinch hit for Brooks and hgit a hard grounder to shortstop. The throw skidded under the first baseman’s glove and into the Granada Hills dugout, scoring both Palisades runners. As Reis emphatically stepped on home plate to end the game Palisades players poured onto the field, threw their caps high in the air and mobbed each other on the infield grass.
Palisades opened the postseason that year at home against 10th-seeded Narbonne and won 4-2 behind strong pitching by junior right-hander Geoff Schwartz, who allowed three hits in five innings. He would win the Post Cup Award as the school’s outstanding senior athlete the following year and became an offensive lineman in the NFL.
Brooks singled with the bases loaded to give the Dolphins a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the first inning. Narbonne’s Jason Gamboa led off the second inning with a homer but Palisades added an insurance run in the sixth on Skolnik’s RBI single.
Kaufman pitched two innings in relief and Cohen had two hits to raise his team-leading batting average to .500.
Five days later the Dolphins traveled to the San Fernando Valley to face second-seeded Monroe in the quarterfinals. Reis hit an RBI triple then scored himself on a throwing error in the first inning.
Monroe tied it in the bottom of the frame, but Palisades added four more runs in the second. Kirksey hit a two-run double and later scored on a single by Brooks.
The host Vikings (12-15-1) crept to within 6-5 in the third, but the Dolphins put the game out of reach with four runs in the fourth and two more in the fifth en route to a 13-5 triumph. Schartz pitched four shutout innings in relief.
The semifinal was played June 6 at Cal State Dominguez and the Dolphins found themselves trailing third-seeded Gardena 2-0 going into the sixth inning. In fact, they were unable to muster a hit versus Panthers ace Nicholas Gorman. However, he used up his allotted number of innings for the week, forcing Gardena to bring in a reliever.
“That was the gameplan, to keep it close and hopefully win it with our depth at the end,” Howard said. “This team isn’t always pretty, but it finds a way to win.”
Down to their final four outs, the Dolphins loaded the bases in the top of the sixth and Brooks floated a single over the first baseman’s head to tie the game.
After Schwartz worked out of a jam in the bottom half, Palisades took the lead in the seventh when Cohen smacked a two-out double to bring home Cook with the winning run. The 3-2 comeback sent the Dolphins to Dodger Stadium for the first time in 14 years.
Palisades has made it to the finals six times but only the 2003 team came away victorious. The first time the Dolphins played in Dodger Stadium they were no-hit by Bret Saberhagen in 1982.
In 2019, Coach Mike Voelkel led the team to its first Open Division final against Birmingham.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.