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Avocado League Baseball Preview : Usual Two-Team Race Should Get Crowded

Last season, San Pasqual and San Marcos turned the Avocado League baseball season into a two-team race.

San Pasqual--led by all-county pitcher Robbie Adams--won the league with an 11-1 record. San Marcos--with its own all-county pick in pitcher Mike Ponio--was second at 10-2. Only Escondido and Carlsbad (both 6-6) were even able to finish at the .500 mark.

This season, even without their star pitchers, San Pasqual and San Marcos appear to be strong again. However, five or six teams could be in the hunt for a playoff spot.

Here’s a closer look at the teams in the Avocado League: CARLSBAD

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Last season’s record: 6-6, 9-13

Finish: Third, tied.

Coach: Buddy Lewis

Top returners: Paul Faulkner (junior, pitcher); Paul Bonguara (senior, outfielder); Mike Cummings (senior, shortstop)

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Top newcomer: Bill Schlinger (junior, pitcher); Scott Beith (junior, second baseman)

Outlook: The Lancers (4-6) are the youngest team in the league, starting four juniors and two sophomores. Faulkner and Schlinger, however, both have good arms if not a lot of experience. EL CAMINO

Last season’s record: 3-9, 6-17

Finish: Fifth, tied.

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Coach: George Griffin

Top returners: Mike Knudsen (senior, shortstop); Rodney Cotton (senior, outfielder)

Top newcomer: Shawn Harris (sophomore, outfielder)

Outlook: El Camino, always strong in football and basketball, has struggled in baseball during recent seasons. First-year Coach George Griffin hopes to get good years from Knudsen, Cotton and Harris, who have done well in other sports. ESCONDIDO

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Last season’s record: 6-6, 10-14

Finish: Third, tied.

Coach: Bill Kutzner

Top returners: Rick Afenir (senior, shortstop); Jason Hobbs (junior, second baseman), Mike Hopkins (senior, pitcher)

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Top newcomer: Andy Martin (sophomore, third baseman)

Outlook: The Cougars should be ready to contend. Escondido (7-6) won the Class A division of the preseason Lions tournament. Martin went 15 for 18 with 12 hits in a row at one point. Hopkins leads an experienced group of returning pitchers. Afenir is a two-time all-league shortstop. OCEANSIDE

Last season’s record: 3-9, 3-18

Finish: Fifth, tied.

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Coach: Dave Barrett

Top returners: Joe Letizia (senior, catcher); Keith Combs (junior, pitcher); Finney McCarter (senior, center fielder) Henry Jimenez (senior, shortstop)

Top newcomer: None.

Outlook: The team went 5-5 in the preseason to nearly double its win output of a year ago. Combs has allowed only two earned runs in 20 innings and leads what Barrett calls his best-ever pitching staff. Shortstop Jimenez is hitting over .400. RAMONA

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Last season’s record: 3-9, 7-11

Finish: Fifth, tied.

Coach: Bill Tamburrino

Top returners: Frank Romero (senior, left fielder); Tim Ellis (senior, pitcher); Shawn McConaughey (senior, pitcher).

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Top newcomer: Oscar Bravo (senior, shortstop)

Outlook: Ramona, the smallest school in the North County, has had trouble in recent years competing in baseball. But that could be different this year. Ellis and McConaughey lead a group of four experienced left-handed pitchers. “I look at us being able to play for a playoff spot,” Tamburrino said. “We hit with power and I have a very strong team defensively.” Ramona starts league play with a 5-3 record. SAN MARCOS

Last season’s record: 10-2, 19-7

Finish: Second

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Coach: Ron Layton

Top returners: Tino Lozano (senior, right fielder); Eric Brio (senior, first basemen).

Top newcomers: Robert Griffin (senior, pitcher); Chuy Lozano (senior, center fielder).

Outlook: With Mike Ponio and Keith Pollins, who led the Knights to the CIF semifinals last season, graduated, Layton may face a rebuilding year. San Marcos comes into league play 5-4. SAN PASQUAL

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Last season’s record: 11-1, 20-3

Finish: First

Coach: Bill Green

Top returners: Roberto Salas (junior, second baseman); Chris Portis (senior, first baseman); Greg Bratten (senior, pitcher)

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Top newcomers: Darren Dunn (junior, pitcher)

Outlook: All-county pitcher Adams has graduated but Green still has Bratten, a hard-throwing right-hander, considered to be the best pitcher in the league. But San Pasqual lost catcher Todd Brose for the season after breaking his wrist during the football season. San Pasqual is 5-3-1 heading into league play.


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