Cardozo High School outfielder Christopher Campbell remembers watching members of the school’s boys basketball team triumphantly march through the halls after their Public School Athletic League city championship win in March.
Ever since then, he said, it was the baseball team’s mission to feel that same type of jubilation that comes with being crowned city champs.
“[I remember] them running around the school saying they’re city champions, saying Cardozo baseball has to follow us,” Campbell said. “It kind of put pressure on us. We wanted to be just like them and say that we won too.”
Now, Campbell and his Judges teammates will be able to say exactly that for a year.
Cardozo star pitcher Keith Rodgers shined both on the mound and at the plate, as the senior hurled six dominating innings and drove the game-winning run in the seventh inning of the Judges’ 3-1 victory over Staten Island powerhouse Tottenville High School at Yankee Stadium on Thursday.
It is the Bayside school’s first baseball city championship since 1988 and third sports title for Cardozo this year, joining those won by the girls volleyball and boys basketball squads.
“It’s been almost three decades and no one expected us to make it this far,” Rodgers said after the game. “It’s unreal to be underdogs and to finally win a city championship after 26 years.”
Ending that championship drought was in jeopardy in the seventh and final inning, however, after Tottenville tied the game at one run apiece in the bottom of the sixth inning. But in the seventh, Cardozo managed to load the bases with no outs on a walk, fielding error and a single by Noah Cabrera.
After Campbell, who drove in the Judges’ other run with a smoked double to right field in the first inning, popped out, Rodgers stepped to the plate with the chance to etch his name in Cardozo lore for years to come.
“I was really just trying to put the ball in play,” he said. “My first three at-bats, I couldn’t square the ball up. I really just tried to lock in at the very last moment and make sure I can do something to get the run in for us.”
Just as a light rain began to fall on the crowd of around 500 at Yankee Stadium, Rodgers drilled a solid single to left field off relief pitcher Mark Birkbeck, driving in Jonathan Lane to give Cardozo a 2-1 lead.
A throwing error on the next play by Tottenville catcher James Wise allowed a second run to score, giving the Judges a 3-1 lead, the eventual final score.
“I was just happy to be clutch,” Rodgers said. “As long as I did something for my team and got them some insurance runs. That’s all I was trying to do.”
On the mound, the star senior surrendered just one run on two hits over six innings of work. He walked four batters and struck out seven.
He was even unhittable at times, as Rodgers retired 13 of 15 hitters who came to the plate between the second and fifth innings, with the two baserunners reaching on walks.
Right fielder Jun Young Lim relieved Rodgers, whom Lim called “a true MVP and a team leader,” in the seventh inning, striking out all three hitters he faced to seal the city title with members of the 1988 championship team watching from the stands.
“At first, when I was coming in, I felt nervous,” Lim said. “After I got that first strike, it was a regular game.”
Cardozo coach Ron Gorecki heralded the leadership qualities of Thursday’s three stars after accepting the team’s championship plaque.
“Keith Rodgers is a quiet leader. He’s the silent strong guy,” Gorecki said. “Campbell leads the team by example and Lim just comes here and wants to play baseball.”
Tottenville was seeking its second city title in the last five years, and starting pitcher Tom Musso matched Rodgers pitch for pitch until the sixth inning.
The Staten Island senior surrendered a mere one hit over six innings, walking three batters and striking out four. But it was the impressive pitching performance of Rodgers and Lim that proved too much for the Pirates to overcome.
After getting high-fives and fist bumps from his teammates, Lim happily declared the victory and the day as something he and his teammates will never forget.
“It is the best moment of my life,” he said. “The best.”