THE HIGH SCHOOLS : Silverman Finds What She Never Needed as Starting Pitcher--Relief

Times Staff Writer

Beth Silverman spent Saturday afternoon watching a youth softball team at Hale Junior High in Woodland Hills. When she spotted a couple of 7-year-old players, her mind drifted back 10 years to her days on the same field when she, too, was just learning the game.

Back then, Silverman couldn't have predicted her amazing achievements at El Camino Real High, including a 35-0 career pitching record.

Silverman, 17, also couldn't have imagined the circumstances that would put that career on hold in her junior year.

On March 11, during a nonleague game at Newbury Park, Silverman allegedly cursed at teammate Darci Stehlik, prompting her teammates to call for a postgame meeting that Silverman didn't attend. The next day, Coach Neils Ludlow faced a team mutiny. El Camino players threatened to quit if Silverman was allowed to remain on the team. Ludlow told Silverman not to attend practices or games until the situation was resolved.

On Thursday, after two weeks of waiting, Ludlow told Silverman her 1987 season was over.

"He tried to work with both sides," Silverman said, "but I have a feeling it was the team's decision, not his."

Silverman said she was just glad a decision was reached and added she would have quit the team anyway if a decision hadn't been made by Friday.

"I feel relaxed that everything is finally over," she said. "People kept asking me at school about this and I kept saying, 'I don't know.' They asked why I was so calm about it and I said it was something that just happened. Nobody can change the way others feel about it."

Sandy Silverman, Beth's father, criticized Ludlow's 15-day wait before reaching a decision.

"This is where Ludlow didn't rise to the challenge," Sandy Silverman said. "He tried to pacify the situation. I think he acted in good faith, but it was wrong to take two weeks to make a decision that should have been made immediately."

Ludlow remains optimistic that his pitcher will return next season. Silverman said she hasn't given any thought yet about a possible return. "Nobody's going to make the decision except me," she said.

A bit of irony capped the entire scenario. Silverman, who in happier days had been nominated in the overall sports category by El Camino Real officials, received a certificate of recognition for her athletic accomplishments from the L.A. Unified School District the same day she was dismissed from the team.

When Matt Franco stands in the batter's box these days, each pitch looks like a beach ball thrown into the wind.

It's big. It's inviting. And he pounds it like the surf pounds the sand.

Franco, a senior at Westlake High, is 19 for 28 with 3 home runs in 9 games and is batting .679. After setting school records last season with 36 hits and a .435 average, he is making a farce out of the adage, "Hitting a baseball is one of the most difficult things to do in sports."

Right now, hitting is as easy for Franco as tying his shoes. He takes it one lace at a time.

"I think I can keep it going through the whole season," he said. "I don't feel lucky at all. The ball looks really big."

Westlake Coach Dennis Judd believes Franco could have even more hits.

"Matt hasn't had a cheap hit this year," Judd said. "Even the outs he's getting are hard shots. He got out the other day on a ground ball to second that almost took the guy's arm off."

Franco, who struck out only twice last season, has struck out once this year. Simi Valley ace Scott Radinsky, now in the Chicago White Sox organization, struck out Franco once last season, but Franco was 3 for 6 against him.

What's his secret?

"I know my strike zone and I never guess," Franco said. "A lot of hitters get overanxious. I just wait for a good pitch to hit."

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