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THE COLLEGES : The Word Is Out About Churchill : Cypress Player’s Hitting Ability Is No Longer a Secret

Times Staff Writer

Tim Churchill is gaining attention as a baseball player, but it’s making him a little nervous.

Before this week, it was a well-kept secret that Churchill had hit in every Cypress College game this season, a streak that has reached 28 games.

Churchill’s teammates knew about the streak, but Scott Pickler, Cypress coach, chose not to publicize it for fear of jinxing it.

But the streak was reported in the media last Tuesday, and Churchill started to struggle. He had hits in his final at-bats in his last two games this week to keep the streak alive.

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“Once it was in the papers, I finally started to feel the pressure,” said Churchill, who transferred to Cypress from Fullerton College this season. “I struggled in my first three at-bats against Saddleback (Tuesday). But before my last at-bat I said to myself that if God wants it to end, then it will, and if He wants it to continue, then I will get a hit.

“I really don’t want to worry about it. I don’t want it to end, but when it does, I will be relieved.”

Churchill is hitting .454 (54 for 119), and he leads the team in home runs with 8, in RBIs with 47 and in doubles with 11. He has struck out just eight times thanks to a shorter swing he has been working on with Gordon Blakeley, Cypress assistant coach.

The streak almost ended Tuesday in Cypress’ 3-1 victory over Saddleback. Cypress led, 1-0, in the eighth inning when the hitless Churchill came up with two out and a runner on second. Saddleback elected to pitch to Churchill, who hit a fly-ball double just out of the reach of Mark Williamson, the center fielder.

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Churchill needed an infield single in the eighth inning in Cypress’ 11-2 victory over Saddleback Thursday to extend the streak again.

“The kid can hit; there is no way around that,” Pickler said. “He is just so intense when he gets to the plate, you can tell that he is very serious about his hitting all the time.”

Although Churchill has had success as a hitter wherever he has played, he always has seemed to be upstaged.

When he was a senior at Valencia High School in 1986, he played first base and hit .427 with 5 home runs and 31 RBIs.

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But his teammate Andy Ruscitto hit .424 with 6 home runs. That season, Ruscitto also set the Orange County record for career home runs (22).

Ruscitto continued to outshine Churchill when they both attended Fullerton College. Last season, Ruscitto switched from catcher to first base at Fullerton, so Churchill’s only chance to play was as the designated hitter. Ruscitto hit .341 with 11 home runs and 36 RBIs and Churchill hit .318 with 5 home runs and 34 RBIs at Fullerton.

Ruscitto was drafted and later signed with the Houston Astros last summer. Meanwhile, Churchill went undrafted and started looking for a new team.

“I was upset because I didn’t get to play in the field,” Churchill said. “I was a little bit bitter about it, but I don’t regret having played there. . . . They just don’t draft designated hitters. It just doesn’t happen.”

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Nick Fuscardo, Fullerton coach, prefers to talk about the positive outcome of the situation.

“His hitting streak is amazing,” Fuscardo said. “He could always hit, and, hopefully, he gained from playing here. But he isn’t here anymore, so that’s about it. Things are working out well for him, and his leaving opened a place in our lineup for Rodney (Klopfer), who is having a great season also.”

Churchill decided to play at Cypress because he knew assistants Blakeley and Dave Bowman when they coached him in the 1985 Orange County High School All-Star game. Blakeley coached at Sonora High School and Bowman at Western then.

At Cypress, Churchill has played first base all season and has shown improvement in his fielding.

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“I take ground balls and work at my fielding,” Churchill said. “Coach Pickler is always talking to me about fielding, and I realize I need to improve at it. But I spend a lot of time on hitting. That’s what I enjoy working on most.”


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