College Division / Mitch Polin : Cal Baptist Coach Leaving a Program He Built

When Larry Harper announced recently that this would be his last season as baseball coach at California Baptist College in Riverside, he knew that he would be leaving with mixed emotions.

Harper had literally built the baseball program from scratch when he came to the school two years ago.

The sport had been dropped after the 1984 season because of financial problems and when the school decided to bring it back after the 1986 season, Harper said there were few traces of the Lancers' baseball past.

"It was just like starting from scratch," Harper said. "There were no players, no field and no equipment left from before. Not even a baseball was left from the old program."

So after Harper recruited his first class of players for the 1987 season, his next task was to build a field. Harper and his team provided the labor.

"We had to do everything by ourselves," he said. "We brought in two full-size tractors to grade the field and get all the garbage out. Center field had been a reclamation center for a boys club."

Harper said he will never forget seeding the field by hand and adds "we threw close to 300 bags of manure over it to get it started." Not to mention the 125 postholes that the team shoveled so they could put a fence around the field.

"It was a lot of work but we knew that once we got it going it would be worth it because we did it all by ourselves," Harper said.

The team also had to organize numerous fund raisers. Harper said the school had a $2,000 budget for building the facility when it actually cost $15,000.

"I don't think the school understood how hard it was to make the program right," he said. "The time, the effort and the money it took."

Harper said school officials probably didn't understand he insisted on scheduling numerous NCAA Division I and II teams in his first season at Cal Baptist, an NAIA school with only about 550 students.

The Lancers struggled during the nonconference season but rebounded sharply during the Golden State Athletic Conference season to finish with a 17-24 record and reach the NAIA District III playoffs.

"We probably did more than they (school officials) expected," he said. "They just wanted to have a program there for the students to participate in."

But it was Harper's intention all along to play a top-notch schedule. This season, Cal Baptist's schedule includes two games against Arizona State, ranked No. 2 in Division I, and a game against Cal State Dominguez Hills, ranked No. 4 in Division II. The Lancers will also play UC Irvine March 2 and Penn State March 4.

"I could have played all the small Bible schools from the East, who would be glad to come out here, and we would have a decent record but that's not everything," he said.

"If I felt we would go play an Arizona State or a UC Irvine and get embarrassed I wouldn't play them. But we went out and played them (Arizona State) as well as any other team has."

The Lancers, who are 3-7, were beaten by Arizona State, 5-0 and 12-6--certainly respectable considering the competition. Harper says the difficult competition should also prepare his team for the district playoffs.

"Our record does not really shock me considering who we've played," Harper said. "But I fully expect us to have a winning record in the conference and get back to the (district) playoffs."

In fact, with a surplus of young players such as sophomore pitcher Fred Whatley and junior catcher Chris Kerr (batting .515), the Lancers may have the talent to make post-season play an annual event.

Then why would Harper want to leave?

"Unfortunately I feel like I've done all I can here," he said. "I've been working full-time on a part-time basis and I've decided that if the school can't give me a full-time commitment, then it's time for me to go on."

Harper, who has also been an assistant at Cal Poly Pomona and Southern California College and scouted for the Dodgers and the Kansas City Royals, says he will probably pursue a position with another major league team.

"I had opportunities and I could have moved on after last season but I felt that I had a commitment to the players and wanted to stay another year," he said.

Harper said it will be especially difficult to leave Cal Baptist because the toughest part of building the program has already been achieved.

"That's what makes it so hard to leave," he said. "We've done all the hard part to get the program going and set the foundation and now I'll be gone."

But he will not be leaving without a feeling of accomplishment.

It has been pretty much a two-person show for the men's and women's basketball teams at Chapman College this season.

The Panthers, hoping to reach the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. post-season tournament in both men's and women's play, have stayed in contention behind seniors Kelly Huston and Karan Polk.

Huston, a 6-7 forward who leads the conference in scoring, has averaged 21.8 points and 8.6 rebounds and has made about 60% of his field-goal attempts. Huston, who has scored 545 points this season, needs only three more points to become the school's second highest scorer in a season.

Polk, a 5-4 senior guard who is second among CCAA women in scoring, has averaged 17.8 points, 6.1 assists and 4.1 rebounds. When Polk sat out the last four minutes of her team's 87-60 win over UC Riverside on Saturday, it marked the first minutes she had not played in the last 10 games.

The Chapman men are 6-6 in the CCAA and tied with Cal State Northridge for the fourth and final post-season tournament spot and the Panthers are 5-5 and third in women's play.

College Division Notes

With one week to go in conference play Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Cal State Bakersfield and UC Riverside are tied for the CCAA men's basketball lead at 9-3. That sets up two big games this week in Riverside, where the Highlanders will host Bakersfield Thursday and San Luis Obispo Saturday. . . . The Cal Poly Pomona women's basketball team, which has an 11-0 CCAA record and is 23-3 overall, has already clinched its seventh straight title. The Broncos, ranked No. 3 in the NCAA Division II, visit Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in their regular-season finale Thursday. . . . Biola reached the 25-win plateau for the fifth consecutive season with a 92-51 win over The Master's last week. The Eagles, ranked No. 9 in the NAIA, were 25-3 before Tuesday's game against Christian Heritage. . . . CS Bakersfield successfully defended its CCAA men's swimming title and Cal State Northridge won the women's title again at the conference championship meet at Bakersfield last week.

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