Southern Section Baseball Preview : No Team Seems to Be Dominant, but Lakewood Might Be the Best

Times Staff Writer

Nobody in the Times Southern Section baseball Top 10 poll is in the class of last year's Simi Valley team, which was ranked No. 1 in the nation for most of the season.

Despite the lack of a dominant team, the 1987 baseball season is not lacking in depth. There are more than 20 teams that rate serious consideration for a Top 10 ranking.

Although there is no dominant team, there is a dominant pitcher in the area. Mike McNary, who was All-Southern Section last year as a junior, is what sets Lakewood above the rest. McNary is the main reason the Lancers occupy the top spot.

Lakewood is one of two teams from the Moore League (Long Beach Millikan is the other) in the Top 10. The Del Rey League also has two teams, Bellflower St. John Bosco and Mission Hills Alemany.

The poll also has some notable exclusions in two-time defending 3-A champion Oxnard Rio Mesa, defending 4-A champion Anaheim Esperanza and Simi Valley.

Here is the Times Top 10 with their leagues in parentheses:

1. Lakewood (Moore)--The Lancers return only four starters, but one of the returnees is All-Southern Section pitcher McNary. McNary, a 5-8 right-hander, may be lacking in height but not in stature. As a junior, McNary was 13-2 with an 0.93 earned-run average and 139 strikeouts in 90 innings. The second starter is junior Rick Molnar, the top pitcher from last year's 19-1 junior varsity team. Troy Abato will be first out of the bullpen and a spot starter. "I'm real excited about our pitching," Lancer Coach Walter O'Neil said. Hitting, though, is another matter. Lakewood has to replace five starters, including the entire outfield off a 21-4 team. Runs may be at a premium, but the Lancers hope to manufacture them. "One of the things that is going to help us is our team speed," O'Neil said. "I've got four or five guys who could be leadoff hitters." If Lakewood can get any hitting to go with its pitching, the Lancers will be tough to beat. "I think we do have a pretty darn good team," O'Neil said.

2. Bellflower St. John Bosco (Del Rey)--The Braves return 12 letterman, including five starters and a pitcher from last season's 19-3 squad. St. John Bosco will be especially strong up the middle, with three-year starters at second base, shortstop and center field. Cary Windes, who holds the Southern Section record for most home runs in a game (4), returns at shortstop. At second base is Jim Sterner, who quarterbacked the Braves football team which made it to the Big Five Conference title game. In center field is another football star, All-Big Five running back Oscar Meza, who hit .394 last year. Windes, Sterner and Meza not only anchor the defense but the offense as well, as Meza will bat leadoff, with Sterner batting third and Windes hitting cleanup. Rounding out the infield is Mark Hofmans, who returns at third base after hitting .429 last year, and junior Bob Jabukik at first base. "Defense will be our No. 1 strength," St. John Bosco Coach Ed Riley said. Pitching, though, is a question mark, as the Braves have to replace Pat Fitzsimons, who was 12-2 last year. Riley hopes he has adequate replacements in Tony Woltkamp and Tom Martinez, who combined for five wins and five saves last season. "If the pitching is consistent and right with the rest of the team, we'll be in the battle," Riley said.

3. Anaheim Loara (Empire)--The Saxons return their top two pitchers, plus three players who hit more than .300. Jeff Patterson (5-4, 3.07 ERA) and left-hander Alan Evans (2-1, 2.12 ERA) head the pitching staff that lifts Loara above the rest of the Empire League, which is again one of the better leagues. Patterson also hit .321. Among other returnees from last season's 18-11-1 team is All-League catcher Brian Roberts, who hit .406 with 6 home runs and 22 runs batted in, and outfielder-pitcher Carlos Castillo, who hit .333. Shortstop Carlos Vargas is the only returning starter in the infield, as Scott Wood takes over at first base, Danny Rodriguez at second base, and Craig Clayton at third. Clayton led the team in RBIs in American Legion ball over the summer. Patterson, Roberts, Vargas and outfielder Brian Malavar are all three-year starters.

4. Anaheim Servite (Angelus)--The defending league champions return seven starters, ncluding one of the better pitching staffs around to go along with good hitting. James Ferguson, a 6-6 senior, is back after posting a 5-0 record with 7 saves and a 1.52 ERA, along with junior Craig Barkley (5-3, 1.72 ERA) and senior Todd Cook (1-1, 2.22 ERA). Ferguson will be used mostly as a starter and Cook will take his spot as No. 1 reliever. Shortstop Chris Ulmer leads the offense after hitting .393 with 15 RBIs last year. Switch-hitting outfielder Michael Robertson (.355, 13 RBIs) is also back. Other returning players from a 15-8 team include catcher Brian Criss, third baseman Andy Roschman, second baseman Mike Cornelius and outfielder Corey Wentz. The Friars count on Wentz (3 home runs, 20 RBIs) and Mike Petko, who had three home runs in only eight games, to provide the power.

5. Long Beach Millikan (Moore)--A young Ram team of a season ago that struggled at 15-12 is expected to blossom in 1987. "We played 'em (the young players), and we took our lumps," Millikan Coach Dan Peters said. Six starters and a pitcher return from last year's squad, led by catcher Rick Fulton, who hit .340, and center fielder Jason VonArx, who hit .320. Designated hitter-pitcher Jeff Heath is also back after posting a .333 batting average with 22 RBIs and going 3-3 as a pitcher. Phil Kendall (5-4) will be back on the mound for the Rams, along with Bob Crane, who pitched 40 innings last season as a sophomore. The other two returnees are shortstop Mark Houser and third baseman Ron Keester, who were both sophomores last season . "We were extremely young last year," Peters said. "We should still be pretty young, (but) I definitely expect us to improve on what happened last year." Peters is also high on a newcomer, junior Glenn McNabb, who will play right field. "He's gonna be a player. Got a real strong arm," Peters said. All in all, Peters is optimistic, even excited about this season after a tough '86 season. "We've got three pitchers back, hitting could be a strength, defensively we're going to be pretty strong. . . . This could be a good year for us."

6. El Segundo (Pioneer)--The Eagles are always one of the Southern Section's top teams, and 1987 will be no different. El Segundo returns seven players, but will have a tough time replacing two that graduated, pitcher Zak Shinall (13-4, 1.94 ERA) and shortstop Willie Parsons (.417, 36 RBIs). The Eagles, who were 26-6-1 last season, will also be without Dan Parente, one of their top players. Parente, who hit .320 last season and was 3-0 as a pitcher, suffered a broken arm in a motorcycle accident and won't be able to play until April. Despite those losses, the Eagles still field a formidable team. One of the keys should be Heath Jones, who was 6-2 with a 0.97 ERA as a sophomore. Jones also hit .370 with 35 RBIs. Scott Talanoa, who was 3-0 last season and hit .329, also returns. Jeremy Varner (.305) will replace Parsons at shortstop, and Jose Sanchez (.340) will start at catcher. "I know its going to be a lot tougher without Parente," El Segundo Coach John Stevenson said. "I hope we get him back. The players that are coming back are all playing different positions then they did last year. I don't know if they can handle these new positions." El Segundo may find it a little rough at the start, but the Eagles should get Parente back in time for league play. Parente's return could be the difference in what figures to be a tough Pioneer League race with Redondo and Lawndale Leuzinger.

7. Arcadia (Pacific)--Coach John Meiers has the unenviable task of replacing one of the better pitching staffs around--Tim Lindsay, now at UCLA; Steve McGovern, now at Cal State Los Angeles; and Mark Juhas, now at California. Meiers, though, feels he has at the very least adequate replacements, and possibly players as good, in Eric Gruben and Dominic Medina. Gruben and Medina pitched on the JV team last season, and each showed ability with two no-hitters apiece. "Because of the strength we had (in pitching), we left them down there," Meiers said. "Gruben could be as good as Tim, (but) he's just not tested." As far as hitting goes, Meiers expects the Apaches, who were 21-6 in 1986, to improve considerably from last season. "I know we have a better hitting team," Meiers said. The outfield returns intact, led by Mark Smith (.468). Joining Smith will be Chris McCarn and Dustin Pike. First baseman Charles Emerson (.364) also returns. "I'm optimistic," Meiers said. "The only thing that concerns me is pitching depth."

8. Santa Monica (Ocean)--The Vikings, who were 18-9-1 last year, move from the Bay League to the Ocean League, bringing five returning starters who hit .390 or better. They've also added Aaron Macarelli, a transfer from Pennsylvania who hit .458. The returnees: Randy Bongard (.420), Peter McKellar (.410), Alonzo Mier (.400), Nick Satriano (.410) and Fito Becerra (.390). With hitting like that, runs shouldn't be a problem. First-year Coach Eddie Frierson expects Mier, Becerra and Satriano to be the catalysts for his offense. Santa Monica will have to replace pitcher Greg Berlfein, who was 11-3 last year. Scott Grimm, a 6-5 senior who was 3-2 last year is back, along with junior Kurt Schwengel (4-0, 2.91 ERA) and his twin brother Kris. David Masi (1-4, 3.50 ERA) also returns.

9. Mission Hills Alemany (Del Rey)--The Indians, 16-10 in 1986, made their first trip to the 4-A playoffs last season, and were eliminated in the first round by Camarillo. This year, after winning the L.A. Games, they're setting their sights higher as eight starters return, including their entire pitching staff. "They've got some high goals, " Alemany Coach Jim Ozella said. "They're hoping to go a long way." Leading the way will be Brian Roselli, 8-4 with a 1.37 ERA as a sophomore. Joining him will be Mike Rooney, 4-3 last season, and Bill Lucid, a 6-6 senior who was 2-2 last season. Roselli and Rooney were Co-MVP's of the L.A. Games. "A lot of teams are lucky to have two good pitchers," Ozella said. "We're fortunate to have a little more." Hitting, which Ozella said was a disappointment last year, is expected to improve, too. Second baseman Randy Thompson, who led the team in hitting, returns with his .353 average and 17 RBIs. Also coming back are outfielder-first baseman Pat Aragon, who hit .340, and shortstop Greg Biley, who hit .314 as a sophomore. Ozella hopes Darrell Zavatsky, who had a disappointing '86, will provide the power. "I think we got a few things that are really working for us," Ozella said. "We got a lot kids who are experienced. We've got a lot of depth. We're pretty deep at pitching. If we hit, we're really gonna be all right."

10. Diamond Bar (Sierra)--The Brahmas lost a pair of All-Southern Section players, shortstop Kraig Washington and outfielder Larry Vladic, to graduation. In addition, they jumped from the 2-A, where they were 21-5, to the 4-A division. But Diamond Bar returns its pitching staff (except for Washington, who was the top reliever) and five other starters. The pitching will be the strength, led by Jim Edmonds, who was 5-1 with a 1.97 ERA as a sophomore. Bryan Marino (6-0, 3.75 ERA) and Damien McBratney (3-0, 1.00 ERA) round out the staff. Brian Hendrick, son of the Angels' George Hendrick, returns in right field after hitting .436 as a sophomore. Also returning, but changing positions, will be Craig Turley, moving from second base to shortstop to replace Washington. Turley, who is also the all-time leading goal scorer in Southern Section soccer history, hit .438 last season. Cory Kapano, who hit .313 last year, will take over for Turley at second base. "I don't know how well we can do against the division at large," Diamond Bar Coach Denis Paul said. "Thank goodness we don't have to worry about it for a while."

Others to Watch

Simi Valley lost pitcher Scott Radinsky, the Southern Section 4-A Player of the Year, and just about everybody else to graduation. While the Pioneers may be hurting in the pitching department, they will not be hurting on offense, led by Scott Sharts. One of two returning starters, Sharts hit six home runs as a sophomore.

Two-time defending 3-A champion Oxnard Rio Mesa has only two players back from last year's 25-4 team. Coach Richard Duran takes over for Pat Machado, who left to become the football coach at Morro Bay. The Spartans will also have a new look, changing from a power-oriented team to a running team. One of the returning players, pitcher Scott Bush, was 11-0 last season. The Spartans are counting on junior Ryan McMullen, son of former Dodger Ken McMullen, to drive in runs.

Defending 4-A champion Anaheim Esperanza has shortstop Tom Redington, but he's the only starter back from last year's team that ended the season ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today. Pitching is also a question mark for the Aztecs, who have no hurlers back from last season's 25-3-1 team to support Redington, who hit .442 with 10 home runs and 42 RBIs.

Huntington Beach Ocean View will be hurt by the loss of pitcher David Holdridge, who will be limited to designated hitter duty for at least the first half of the season. They also have shortstop Mike Fyhrie, who hit .362 and who will also do some pitching in Holdridge's absence.

One of the top teams in the 4-A, Redondo, moves down to the 3-A, where the Sea Hawks will battle El Segundo in the Pioneer League. Leading the way will be junior Scott Davison, who has been playing since he was a freshman. Davison was 10-3 with a 1.28 ERA last year for Redondo, which finishes 24-5-1.

Pasadena Muir, which has the most talent in the Pacific League according to Arcadia Coach John Meiers, may be a sleeper if the Mustangs can find a pitcher to go with Murph Proctor, who had 104 strikeouts in 53 innings last year. Leading the way on offense will be Vince Phillips, who quarterbacked the football team to the Coastal Conference title. Phillips hit .569 last year.

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