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Kennedy Can’t Get Over Slump

Times Staff Writer

The Kennedy High baseball team won the City 4-A championship the hard way last year.

After winning its first three Mid-Valley League games and their first seven overall, the team proceeded to drop five of its next six, committing 28 errors along the way.

The playoffs seemed out of reach, but junior pitcher Eric Evans, who finished 11-2, and City Player of the Year Kevin Farlow pulled Kennedy out of its nose dive in time to make the playoffs, finishing second in league to Granada Hills.

The Golden Cougars won their last 11 games, including a 10-9 victory over Banning in the title game at Dodger Stadium on June 13.

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Apparently, Kennedy has decided that a mid-season slump might work again. This year, however, it will probably conclude in an end-of-the-season slump.

Since beating Buena, 6-5, in the semifinals of the Babe Herman tournament in March, Coach Dick Whitney and his team have lost seven of eight and are 2-7 in league, one game behind Monroe in the race for the final playoff spot. The Golden Cougars have six games left to regroup.

So what’s wrong with the defending champs?

If only Whitney knew.

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“I’ve seen the guys play as well as anyone else,” he said. “Whether it’s mental or not I just don’t know.”

Certainly, the Golden Cougars aren’t struggling at the plate. Seven starters have a combined batting average of .385, including Dain Turner (.475), Kevin Wittke (.455 and 14 runs batted in), Todd Davis (.346), Roman Carter (.345) and Billy Picketts (.343).

Pitching coach Scott Drootin claims Kennedy fails in pressure situations.

“We’re not getting the key hit when we need the key hit, and then we’re not getting the key strikeout when we need the key strikeout. Same with the defense. We’re just not clicking,” he said.

Still, he offered a bold prediction should Kennedy sneak into the playoffs.

“We get in the playoffs and we’re going all the way. I guarantee it,” Drootin said.

Whitney doesn’t question the talent of his team but said there are some differences from his championship team.

“It’s a different character,” he said. “Last year’s team were more fighters. They showed a little more tenacity.

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“This team’s capable, we’re just playing at the end of our rope.”

The Golden Cougars may reach the playoffs with a late-season run, but with Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to San Fernando, the rope is rapidly fraying.

Kennedy High football Coach John Haynes has resigned and will be replaced by defensive coordinator Bob Francola.

Haynes, 50, will remain at Kennedy as an assistant, specializing in offense. With the exception of two years, Haynes has been either the coach or co-coach at Kennedy since the school opened in 1971.

Haynes, who coached for 26 years, is also the Golden Cougars’ athletic director during the spring.

“I’ve just been a head coach for so long,” Haynes said.

Francola, 38, has been an assistant for the past 16 seasons at Hollywood, Birmingham, Granada Hills and Kennedy. He assisted at Granada Hills for four seasons until joining the Kennedy staff last season.

It is becoming evident that all Granada Hills pitcher Mark Kessler needs is a small middle-inning respite in order to win some games for the Highlanders.

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For the second time this season, Kessler could have been the winning pitcher and picked up the save in the same game.

On Tuesday against Birmingham, the right-hander pitched five innings, allowing only one hit, and left the game with his team leading, 8-0.

Kessler, a senior, was called back when reliever Brett Browning faltered with one out in the seventh.

With runners on first and third and Granada Hills’ lead sliced to 8-4, Kessler retired the next two batters. One run scored on a fielder’s choice.

A similar situation occurred for Kessler on March 22, when the Highlanders beat Westchester, 7-5, in the Holt-Goodman tournament.

A winning pitcher cannot be credited with a save, however.

Kessler is 5-0 this season, thanks to the re-entry rule in high school.

Despite a .335 batting average, a Royal’s Joe Summers isn’t quite satisfied with his offensive output.

As a result, the center fielder is slowly teaching himself to switch-hit, mostly taking the left-handed swings in practice. His most encouraging performance came on April 18 against Simi Valley pitcher Todd Sullivan.

With the Highlanders trailing, 6-0, in the bottom of the fourth, Summers strode to the plate and dug in on the left side of the plate for only the second time in his life.

Summers waved wildly at Sullivan’s first two pitches and then hit the next offering over the right-field fence. Royal lost the game, 7-4.

Summers, a junior, has batted left-handed three times since, and the home run remains his only hit.

Royal Coach Mike McCurdy isn’t concerned with the potential side effects of his best hitter tinkering with his at-bats, however.

“He kind of takes some awkward swings,” McCurdy said. “But as you can see he can come back and hit the ball out of the yard.”


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