The season's baseball races come down to the final game in the next two weeks for several South Bay teams, particularly in CIF action.
On the junior college level, Harbor College is hoping for an outside chance to defend its state baseball title, with the Seahawks playing their chief tormentor this season, Long Beach City College, in today's big showdown.
In CIF action, Redondo has throttled the Bay League and El Segundo captured the Pioneer League by sweeping Leuzinger last week, but the races in the Camino Real and Ocean leagues will be decided in the final games Friday.
A closer look at the races:
Metro Conference--Only one team from the Metro will advance to state playoffs, so Harbor (11-5) must beat Long Beach (13-3) today and hope for some help next week.
Harbor has hit inconsistently, especially in the second part of the season, and Coach Jim O'Brien is frustrated that his team has lost some recent games to beatable opponents.
Being the defending champ, Harbor invariably sees its opponents' ace pitchers and runs into teams fired up to dethrone the king. There are also people in the Seahawks camp who feel that anything less than a state title is a letdown, which O'Brien calls "undue pressure on the players."
"It's tough," O'Brien said, calling this season the "most challenging year I can remember in a long time." He added, "How many guys repeat at any level? I really think that subconsciously you let down. We're young but we're no younger than anybody else except maybe Long Beach. I know we've worked as hard as ever this year. It just comes down to momentum, confidence, all those kinds of things.
"Nobody has really had an outstanding year, except maybe (pitcher) Phil Price. But we're not giving up. We're gonna show up (against Long Beach). All we need is just a couple of guys to get hot. The potential is here. I still think we have a good ballclub."
Price, a freshman right-hander, is O'Brien's sleeper. He'll take a 7-1 record (5-0 in the Metro) into today's game against Long Beach. Catcher Greg Bochesa is the only sophomore having a good season, but because he has been pitched around his runs batted in totals are less than O'Brien hoped. The Seahawks have lost recently to Pasadena and Santa Monica, a team they beat 24-2 earlier.
"Our problem is hitting, especially in the clutch," O'Brien said. "It hurts to lose to teams we're better than. We've just got to relax and hit the ball."
After today's 2:30 game at Long Beach, Harbor plays at Bakersfield on Tuesday and at El Camino on Thursday and closes out the season at home against Santa Monica on May 21.
"I'm more concerned with us than Long Beach," O'Brien said. "We have to win all ours. It's an outside chance but I don't feel anyone will lie down (against Long Beach). Several teams have improved. Long Beach still has a competitive schedule. I still think their pitching is getting tired."
Camino Real--Mary Star is in the driver's seat, a game ahead of St. Bernard. They play each other Friday at St. Bernard to close the season. The Vikings may have the league's top pitcher in Tim Williams, but St. Bernard is a game behind because Williams lost a 1-0 heartbreaker in extra innings to St. Anthony's over the weekend, despite 12 strikeouts.
The Stars also had to face Serra standout pitcher Kevin Boagni on Wednesday.
Mary Star has a stopper of its own in Greg Vitalich (4-2). Coach Des Walker didn't expect his players to let down for either game. "They have the incentive to play. We haven't won a league title since 1979," Walker said. "And no boy's sport at our school has ever won a Camino Real league title, so they have everything to shoot for."
Everybody switch-hits at St. Bernard, under the tutelage of Coach Benny Lefebvre. Walker said that could work in Mary Star's favor Friday. With Vitalich, a right-hander, on the mound, St. Bernard will bat entirely left-handed. Since the Vikings' field has a cozy left-field fence and a jet stream blowing from home to left, some of their power will be negated.
"That's an advantage for us. I think it was at our place, too," Walker said.
The Stars are an unexpected contender, partly through the development of several players and, Walker says, partly because the league is not as strong as in other years.
The Stars' standout and top college prospect is outfielder Roman Meachem, batting .343. Junior Robbie Lorenzi has been a surprise at shortstop, batting .320 in leadoff and playing well in the field. "We didn't think we had a shortstop coming into the season," Walker said. "Now, I may be biased but I think he's the best shortstop in the league."
Center fielder John McAteer (.320), first baseman Joe Briguglio (.370) and second baseman Joe Cervantes (.380) are other Star stars.
Walker, who admits he didn't expect to have a title contender, said, "Our strength has been we've been playing both phases of the game well. We've gotten great offensive production out of our starters and we've played well in the field."
Besides Williams, St. Bernard has several fine players including outfielder Tony Nettles. Walker tabs Williams "probably the best pitcher in our league. . . . He throws the fastest and he throws strikes."
The showdown begins at 3 p.m.
Ocean League--North Torrance and Torrance entered the week in a flat tie at 10-3 and don't play each other again, so the league could end in a tie depending on final games Friday. North High plays the second of a home-and-home series against Beverly Hills while Torrance has a similar setup against Hawthorne. In Friday's finales, North is at Beverly Hills while Torrance is at home.
If the league ends in a tie, Torrance will be considered the league champ for playoff purposes because the Tartars took two of three from North.
That's slightly distressing to North Coach Mike Neily, who saw his team drop into a tie with Torrance last weekend by losing to Culver City, 9-5, committing six errors to allow all the Culver runs.
"It is (disappointing) considering we've been in first place the last couple of weeks, especially when that middle game against Torrance went extra innings and we left the bases loaded with none out," Neily said.
North has generally played solid defense and has battered opposing pitching for a .374 average in league. Neily says the Saxons' 195 runs in 22 games is probably a school record.
Multiple-sport star Ryan Rasnick leads the Saxons, batting .400 as leadoff hitter with 27 runs, 14 extra-base hits, 20 stolen bases and gold-glove defense in center field.
David Seward is 5-1 with a 1.69 earned-run average, has 45 strikeouts in 41 innings, is hitting .441 with five homers and does double duty at first base. Dave Haggard is 5-2 with a 1.66 ERA. They give the Saxons a strong mound combination.
Other standouts for North are junior outfielder Jim Yogi (.381) and shortstop Darren Fisher (.426).
Torrance has less top-to-bottom production than North but its three key players can carry a team. The big sticks belong to outfielder Ernie Villarreal (.543), shortstop Kevin Higgins (.555), who recently was shifted from catcher, and first baseman Lou Ortiz (.432). The Tartars have also been getting good play from sophomore outfielder Steve Semon and new catcher David Christian (.481). Pitchers Beau Palica and Bill Olsin have won 10 league games between them.
"They've got the three quality hitters who carry the load," Neily said. "If you stop them, you can shut down Torrance. If you don't, they'll bury you. We have a good rivalry going with them. It makes it fun."
It might be even more fun if they got to play each other one more time.