College Division : Bill Bene Could Become a Factor

There is nothing awe-inspiring about the pitching statistics of junior Bill Bene of Cal State Los Angeles.

In 40 innings, he has a 5-3 record, 41 strikeouts, 43 walks, 13 wild pitches and a 6.86 earned-run average.

Obviously, the 20-year-old Bene is not the most consistent pitcher in the world.

"You never know what will happen when he pitches," said John Herbold, Cal State L.A.'s coach. "He might throw a no-hitter or he might walk the whole park."

Maybe so, but that hasn't kept pro scouts from flocking to games he has pitched this season. It is not unusual to have as many as 50 scouts in the stands when Bene is on the mound.

It will also not be the least bit surprising if Bene is one of the first 10 players selected in the free-agent draft June 1. Bene was recently rated the fifth-best prospect among college players in a survey by Baseball America magazine.

Why do scouts consider Bene such an outstanding pro prospect?

Well, he stands 6 feet 4 inches and weighs 200 pounds, and his fastball has been clocked as fast as 95 m.p.h, and he can through consistently in the low 90s.

That's enough to pique the interest of a lot of scouts, although Herbold admits sometimes it can get out of hand.

"My son got tired of answer the phone, 'No, Bill's not pitching.' We should have made a recording."

Not to mention what happens at games when Bene is pitching.

"We had 55 scouts at one game and we had so many radar guns going at the same time there was a power shortage," Herbold joked.

All the attention, Herbold said, can be distracting. Bene says he tries not to let it bother him, though.

"The only distraction is maybe after the game," Bene said. "I really don't like talking to (the scouts) in front of my teammates. I'm not there to make it the Bill Bene Show. I'm there to help the team."

The attention Bene is receiving is even more surprising when you consider his limited experience as a pitcher.

Before arriving at Cal State L.A., Bene had not pitched since he played in Little League.

"I was one of the hardest throwers back then, but I was never a dominant thrower," he recalled.

Bene was strictly an outfielder at Long Beach Jordan High, although hitting was never his forte.

"Defensively, I was a pretty good outfielder but at the plate I struck out half the time," he said. "I fooled them for a while but I was never a very good hitter. So I guess I was meant to pitch."

In the summer before his freshman year at Cal State L.A., Herbold suggested to Bene that he should switch to pitching. Herbold said it was actually the idea of former major league pitcher Randy Moffitt, who was a scout for the Montreal Expos at the time.

"(Moffitt) was scouting for Montreal and he's the guy who should get credit for switching him to a pitcher," Herbold said. "He said, 'Why don't you take a chance?' He saw his arm and just thought it was worth a try."

Control is still a major concern whenever Bene is pitching, although he says it has a lot to do with concentration.

"I think the main thing is concentration because concentration leads to other things such as control," Bene said. "I basically need to focus in all the time. Control is my main problem but it's due to my concentration, or lack of it."

But Herbold said that with experience, Bene will continue to improve, especially when he has developed other pitches, including a slider and a split-fingered fastball. Bene was particularly effective in a 6-5 win in March over Loyola Marymount, ranked in the NCAA Division I top 20.

Bene thinks he is making progress, especially on his slider, and hopes to add a changeup to his arsenal next season. "I think I have a good slider," he said. "I just don't throw it as much as I should. I need to throw it more in certain situations."

He also believes he can improve his speed by using more of his body when he pitches.

"Once I get my body into all of my pitches I think I can add three or four miles per hour to my fastball," Bene said. "Right now I basically throw with my arm."

When he improves in those areas, Bene says, he will be a much bigger winner. "I don't see anything stopping me from being successful," he said.

Westmont, the Golden State Athletic Conference champion, will be seeded No. 1 and play host to the NAIA District III baseball championship tournament Thursday through Saturday in Santa Barbara.

But being top-seeded has not translated into winning the tournament for teams in recent years. Last year Azusa Pacific was top-seeded but was upset. The previous season, the same fate befell Southern California College.

Westmont, unranked with a 28-15 record, will play Cal Baptist (20-26) in its first-round game at 2:30 p.m. Thursday after Azusa Pacific (36-12-1) faces The Master's (24-24) at 11 a.m. in the opening game of the 4-team, double-elimination tournament.

Westmont, seeking its first district title since 1966, will rely largely on a strong pitching staff that features Chad Bethel. The junior right-hander has an 8-1 record and a 2.33 ERA.

Azusa Pacific, ranked No. 10 in the NAIA, figures to challenge the Warriors with a starting lineup that has a district-leading .356 batting average. The leader is second baseman Javier Murillo, who is batting .383 with 15 home runs and 59 runs batted in.

The winner of the tournament will be the host team for the area 4-team National Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics playoffs May 19-21.

College Division Notes

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo has been selected as the site of the 1989 men's and women's United States Gymnastics Federation national meet next April. The event will include the top eight women's teams and top six men's teams at the NCAA Division II and III championships. The Cal Poly women's team finished fourth in the 1988 Division II championships.

Senior guard Karan Polk of Chapman, who led the women's basketball team in scoring and assists last season, has been named to the All-American second team selected by the American Women's Sports Foundation. . . . Miguel Phelps, who coached Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to the CCAA championship, has been named women's tennis coach of the year in the conference and Xenia Anastasiadou of Cal Poly Pomona has been named CCAA most valuable player.

Senior catcher Teri Reifel, who led Cal State Bakersfield to the No. 2 ranking in the NCAA Division II women's softball during the regular season, has been named most valuable player in the CCAA. Reifel batted .330 with 25 RBIs in regular-season play. . . . Chapman's Mike Edles, who guided his team to its second straight CCAA title, and UC Riverside's Mike Johnston, who led the Highlanders to third place, have been named CCAA co-coaches of the year.

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