As the San Pedro and Banning softball teams prepared for their highly anticipated L.A. City Section final this past week, two vastly different but equally effective practice methods were on display.On one side, there’s the polished San Pedro program.The Pirates, making their seventh straight trip to the City title game, are remarkably proficient and focused, going through drills with extraordinary efficiency.Then there’s the upstart Banning softball program, playing in its first City title game since 1993 and in the school’s first championship game in any sport since 2000. It’s San Pedro freshman Holly Stevens versus Banning’s Brianna Moeai, both of whom have delivered in the clutch in their team’s biggest games.It’s two proud programs not holding anything back.“It’s going to be a dogfight,” Banning coach Jesse Espinoza said. “Our girls honestly believe we can win. I know we can win. I’m not saying we’re going to win, but I know that our girls can win this game.“They want to do it for themselves for sure, but honestly, I think they want to do it for me because I’ve never been here either, and I’m touched by that.” San Pedro and Banning played in the 1992 and 1993 finals, with San Pedro winning both times. On paper, San Pedro would be considered the favorite, but the teams split during the regular season and shared the Marine League title.Plus, Banning has proved it knows how to win big games.“At first, we were living in the moment, just happy to be here,” Banning first baseman Jackie Reyes said.“But as the game gets closer, it’s getting more serious. We’re going there to win, to give them a fight.” Since San Pedro beat Banning in the 1993 final, the Pirates have won seven City titles, including five straight from 2000 to 2004. Banning has won just one City title, in 1978.But only three Pirates starters — Cecelia Orozco, Vanessa Sphychaj and Kayleigh Raciak — have won City titles. El Camino Real stopped San Pedro, 2-0, in eight innings last year.“Everyone said Pedro would not make it to the championship game this year, and that made us work harder,” Cuico said. “El Camino took it from us last year, and we feel it belongs to us. Now, if we win the City title, we take back our Marine League title.” Orozco, the Pirates’ only four-year varsity letter-winner, said San Pedro’s culture of winning has shaped the Pirates’ youngsters.“There has always been confidence with this team from the beginning,” Orozco said. “We always have someone different come through for us, too. Taylor is always Taylor on the mound, but we have her back offensively and defensively.”Banning, meanwhile, builds off the energy of Espinoza as it tries to build its own tradition.“Jesse’s pumped, and that gets us pumped, too,” Banning outfielder Priscilla Satete said with “Eye of the Tiger” playing in the background. “We’re ready for this game. This is big for us and big for the program.”Espindola, who usually wears black eye makeup for big games, said she will be ready for the biggest game of her career. “We’re going there to win, to take what’s ours,” Espindola said. “Everything is revolving around this game. We can’t wait to get out of school to practice.“If we’re feeling this good right now, I can only imagine the celebration if we win. We’ll have to party all weekend, get a parade or something.”Cameo: Three-time Daily Breeze Player of the Year Ashley Esparza returned to San Pedro to throw live batting practice Wednesday, giving the young Pirates squad a chance to see one of the greatest Pirates ever. The biggest matchup seemed to be when Esparza faced Koria, San Pedro’s most feared slugger. Dobra told Esparza not to hold back and she got Koria on a great offspeed pitch. “That was great to have Ashley come back, especially with the success she’s had,” Dobra said. “She volunteered, and am I going to say no to that? No way. I think our girls will be a little more relaxed against anyone else now after facing her.”Role reversal: San Pedro shortstop Brittney Banania, who was granted a hardship waiver to transfer from Banning in October, said it won’t feel weird to compete against her former coach and teammates. Banania got the jitters out of the way in the first meeting, when she made two of her four errors on the season in a 6-2 loss to Banning. She was much more relaxed in the rematch, won by San Pedro, 6-0. She said there won’t be any issues this time around. “I’m going to be nothing but smiles,” Banania said. “I’m excited and pumped for this game. I know I’m going to be fine. It’s not going to bother me. My teammates helped me relax after that first game with their words of encouragement. I have to approach it like any other game, but I do want this game more than ever.”160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWhicker: Clemson demonstrates that it’s tough to knock out the champInspirational music from the movie Rocky IV is blaring from a car parked next to the Jaycee Complex, providing a soundtrack for an intense workout.All eyes in the Harbor area will be on this matchup Wednesday at UCLA at 4:15 p.m., a game that is sure to go down for the ages.“I’m sure both towns will close down for this game,” San Pedro coach Tony Dobra said. “The longshoremen will certainly have bets on this one.” It will be San Pedro ace Taylor Petty, coming off a no-hitter in a semifinal against top-seeded El Camino Real, versus Banning pitcher Wendy Espindola, a gamer who has made some big-time pitches in big-time games.It’s San Pedro sluggers Perelini Koria, Korin Cuico and Katelyn Oro against Banning sluggers Ui Judd, Maritza Mejia and Mika Cruz, providing some serious firepower for two of the top offenses in the South Bay.
1 Liverpool’s hopes of selling Mario Balotelli or Christian Benteke to Besiktas seem to be fading.The Turkish champions are on the lookout for a striker and had been linked with the Reds pair, who are peripheral to Jurgen Klopp’s plans this season.But chairman Fikret Orman distanced the club from the duo, suggesting Balotelli’s temperament and Benteke’s £32million asking price were sticking points.“Benteke is a good player that we would want to see come to Besiktas but his he is valued at a very high price. It does not look like an easy deal,” he told reporters.“Balotelli is a major star but a troubled player. He has got an image.“We are interested in other players as well. Ideally we want to sign a striker on loan.” Christian Benteke and Mario Balotelli