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BUILDING A WINNER : Orange Lutheran Works on Field, Then Players to Form a Contender

Times Staff Writer

Seven years ago, John Malmquist came to Orange Lutheran High School hoping to build a better baseball program. What he found was an operation lacking in the basics.

First, the facilities.

“There were no dugouts, no batting cages, no outfield fences and no scoreboard when I came here,” Malmquist said. “Just a field and a backstop.”

Today, thanks to Malmquist and the booster club, the Lancers play on a well-manicured field with all the amenities--fences, cages, dugouts, pitching machine and a new scoreboard.

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Next, the fundamentals.

“That’s what we teach,” Malmquist said. “Just fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals. It gets very repetitious.”

But, for Orange Lutheran, it has worked well. Especially this year. At 16-7 overall, and second in league with a 7-3 record, the Lancers are off to their best start since the program’s inception 15 years ago.

Note seven of the Lancers’ early-season games, March 12-30:

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Defeated Inglewood Morningside, 19-0.

Defeated L.A. Jefferson, 23-3.

Defeated South Pasadena, 5-2.

Defeated Dominguez, 15-4.

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Defeated Costa Mesa, 4-1.

Lost to Artesia, 12-10.

Defeated Capistrano Valley, 7-6.

“They’re for real,” Capistrano Valley Bob Zamora said. “They hit the ball real solid against us. They swing real well. . . . They’re very aggressive.”

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In 23 games, Orange Lutheran has scored 191 runs (8.3 average) with 16 home runs, 45 doubles and 6 triples.

Though several injuries and illnesses have slackened the Lancers’ pace the last two weeks, the 13-member team--averaging .322 at the plate--is led, offensively, by a core of five.

Junior shortstop Rich Gress leads the team with a .424 average.

Gress is followed by junior center fielder Matt Wilson (.413), senior third baseman Chris Minogue (.397), catcher David Elliott (.397) and first baseman Tim McCann (.342).

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Starting pitcher Ward Lookabaugh, who transferred from St. Paul two years ago, is 8-2 with a 2.48 earned-run average and 82 strikeouts.

Sophomore Kent Dowding (6-2, 2.75 ERA) was the winning pitcher in the victory over Capistrano Valley, but has been limited this season because of a hyper-extended right shoulder.

“We’ve dropped some games specifically because of injuries,” Malmquist said. “We’re not deep enough to make up for some of them.”

Still, the players manage to make up for each other.

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Last Friday, with Dowding hurt and Lookabaugh needing a rest, Minogue volunteered to pitch in an Olympic League game against Capistrano Valley Christian.

Minogue, who had pitched only one other game--a loss--this season, allowed four hits and walked four in five innings for the victory.

“Chris knew it wouldn’t be easy for him out there,” Malmquist said. “But he came to me and said, ‘Hey, Coach, I’ll give it a try.’ And he performed beautifully.

“That’s the kind of attitude these kids have on this team. They’re real team-oriented.”

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Though, during Friday’s game at least, Malmquist seemed to be the prime source of that attitude.

Throughout the game, which began with a team prayer, Malmquist, 51, and a high school coach for 21 years, jogged in and out of the dugout, praising and encouraging his players--whether they were executing plays well or not.

“That’s the way to play ball, good job boys, good job!” Malmquist said repeatedly, patting players on the back, telling jokes and doing whatever else it took to keep the team relaxed and confident.

It worked. Even though McCann struck out three times that day, he returned to the dugout visibly frustrated but quickly shrugged it off and smiles when he saw Malmquist’s Awwww, c’mon, it’s only a ballgame expression.

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“What you do is put your arm around them, joke around, get ‘em loose and get ‘em to have fun,” Malmquist said.

“You know, every boy who puts on a baseball uniform dreams about going straight into the major leagues out of high school and making a million dollars. That’s a nice dream, but for some who don’t make it, it’s a rude awakening.

“My feeling is, you gotta make this nice for them. Because, you know, it really doesn’t last very long.”


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