BRONCOS : Tough Early Schedule Spurs 'Amazin' Broncos' to Title and Shot at World Series

Times Staff Writer

It was 27 games into the 1985 season and the Cal Poly Pomona baseball team hardly resembled a champion.

Facing a grueling non-conference schedule that consisted entirely of NCAA Division I opponents, the Broncos were struggling with an 8-18-1 record.

Not even the most ardent Bronco fan could have suspected the dramatic change in Pomona's fortunes.

Almost as fast as turning a double play, Pomona started to win regularly once the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. season began.

The Broncos have won 25 of their last 32 games (23-7 in the CCAA) to win the conference and advance to the NCAA Division II playoffs for the second time in three years. Pomona won the title in 1983.

Play Sacramento Today

Pomona, which has a 33-25-1 overall record and has climbed to No. 2 in Division II rankings, will host independent Sacramento State (38-23) in the best-of-five Division II West Regional today through Saturday at Scolinos Field in Pomona. The winner advances to the Division II World Series on May 25-29 in Montgomery, Ala.

The Bronco turnaround has surprised 38-year veteran Coach John Scolinos, who has taken to calling his team the Amazin' Broncos.

"I had hopes that they would (turn things around), but I was kind of concerned about this young pitching staff," Scolinos said.

He believes the strong non-conference schedule had a lot to do with his team's development.

"When you play the tough competition, it helps the whole team, especially the pitching," he said.

"When you play the tough competition you either get tough or go home to mama. We got tough. You're not going to get tough with a bunch of marshmallows. We don't have any marshmallows on this team."

'Mental Toughness'

What has made the Broncos so tough?

"It's mental toughness and that's what we've been telling the kids all along," Scolinos said. "We're an amazing team. Most of our wins are come-from-behind, and it's no accident that we've come from behind so much."

Pomona won many close games and had an 11-2 record in one-run games in the CCAA.

"I don't know how far we will go, but this is a very mentally tough ballclub," Scolinos said. "They don't know what it's like to give up."

The Broncos proved their never-say-never spirit to Scolinos in an 8-6 conference victory over Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on April 9, a game the coach calls the turning point of the season.

"SLO got six runs in the first inning and we brought in (relief pitcher) Darren Gonzales with one out and two guys on," Scolinos recalled. "He gave up no runs. Then we pecked away at them and won.

"It showed the ballclub that we could come from behind and it gave stability to the pitching staff."

Gonzales a Surprise

Gonzales, a junior from Arroyo High in El Monte, has been the biggest surprise of a staff led by two juniors and two sophomores. The 5-10, 160-pound right-hander, used solely in relief, has a 5-1 record and 2.98 earned-run average.

"I think he's the best Division II relief pitcher in the nation," Scolinos said. "He has just done an outstanding job."

Pomona's top three starters are sophomores Michael Munoz and Charlie Webb and junior Kirk Washington. Munoz, who played prep baseball at Bishop Amat in La Puente, posted a conference-leading 13-6 record and 3.17 earned-run average.

"I think the biggest question was would these guys come of age, and I think they have," Scolinos said.

He has not had as many concerns about the hitting and defense, which have been strong most of the season.

The Belting Broncos

Pomona is batting .307--one of its best seasons ever--and has five players above .300: second baseman John Love (.402), right fielder Skylar Faria (.373), first baseman Tom Weeks (.336), shortstop Tom Scaletta (.331) and utility man Mike Patterson (.330).

The Broncos have also hit for power, tying the school record for home runs in a season with 55. Leading the way are Love with 11 homers and 42 runs batted in, Weeks (7 home runs, 48 RBIs) and left fielder Jim Torchia (10 homers, 40 RBIs).

Pomona's hitters figure to receive a strong test from Sacramento State, which has strong pitching led by Steve Brueggmann and Doug Vontz. Brueggmann is 12-1 with a 2.91 ERA and Vontz is 7-0 with a 1.98 ERA.

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