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Luck . . . and a Good Slider

There are no rabbit’s feet or Kewpie dolls in Greg Davis’ gym bag. The superstitious ace of the North Torrance High pitching staff prefers turtlenecks to talismans.

Davis likes nontraditional amulets. That’s why he always pitches, regardless of weather or astrological conditions, donned in a Torrance Fire Department T-shirt and a blue turtleneck.

“I don’t know why I’m superstitious,” he said. “That’s just he way it is. When I started wearing my regular stirrups, I had two shutouts and a five hitter.”

For the record, Davis doesn’t read his horoscope. “That is just stupid,” he says. He also admits that his superstitious approach to pitching makes little sense.

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The 6-foot, 185-pound senior right-hander hexes opponents with his biting slider and 85 m.p.h. sinking fastball. His 8-4 record, 1.33 earned run average and team-leading .371 batting average propelled North to the Bay League championship and a first-round CIF Southern Section 5-A playoff game at home today against Esperanza of Anaheim.

Could there really be a connection between his wardrobe and his won-loss percentage?

“I don’t care,” said North Coach Mike Neily. “Whatever wins.”

Though less superstitious than Davis, Neily acknowledged that he doesn’t wash his uniform until North loses. “It gets a little dirty when you are on a (winning) streak,” he said.

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Jewelry is prohibited on the diamond, so Davis “puts his gold chain with a baseball medallion around my neck,” Neily said, “and when he pitching, the baseball faces out and when he is hitting, he turns it the other way.”

The baseball has been face-out during Davis’ 10-0 cruise through home games the last two seasons. It will be facing the same way today, but other, more tangible factors could determine Davis’ fate.

Esperanza lost in the 4-A finals last year after winning the CIF title in 1986. The No. 7 Aztecs have been ranked in the CIF top 10 most of the season and swing some heavy lumber.

Davis, however, knows he’s only surrendered one earned run in his last three starts and believes he’s in the kind of groove that escaped him months ago.

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Wildness plagued him early in the season. A winter of activity on major league scout teams had left him confused. Although he was getting hitters out in March, something seemed wrong.

“There were so many people telling him how good he was that I think he suffered a mental letdown,” said North assistant coach Rich Strong.

One of those experts was Dick Cole of the El Toro-based Major League Scouting Bureau. Cole and several other coaches gather local standouts to play and learn under the tutelage of the bureau. All major league teams have access to the bureau’s scouting reports.

“I turned (Davis) in as a prospect,” Cole said. “He has one of the best sinking fastballs I’ve seen. . . . He needs help with his delivery and he is kind of hardheaded, but he has a decent chance to be a baseball player.”

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Cole encouraged Davis to develop a split-finger fastball. Davis agreed and quickly tossed a few high off the backstop. Still, he wasn’t discouraged and now credits Cole for teaching him valuable techniques.

Davis’ hardheadedness, meanwhile, required little alteration.

“You can just look at him and he is cocky,” says Cole, “and I like that. It says he’s gonna go out there and get you out.”

“A lot of people think ‘cocky’ is a negative term,” Rolling Hills Coach Garry Poe said, “but I have not seen very many really good pitchers who weren’t cocky. Davis just has a terrific mind for pitching.”

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Last season was different. Davis finished at 9-2 with a 1.68 ERA, but concedes that he didn’t know anything about pitching.

Yet, “Greg caught on faster than any player I ever coached,” said Strong. “He is at the point now where if he is doing something wrong, I won’t have to tell him. He’ll catch himself and correct it.”

Davis now worries less about strikeouts and more about winning, which he accomplished in grand fashion during the final weeks of the regular season with shutouts over West and Torrance.

He was one pitch away from a no-hitter against Torrance when a pinch-hitter slapped an 0-2 base hit. A week earlier, Davis completely stymied West, earning North sole possession of first place in the Bay League.

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“I felt the pressure against West and I feel it a lot,” Davis said, “but I’d rather have it on me than on someone else, because I know I can perform.”

Last year Davis’ teammates scored more than enough runs when Davis pitched. This season the Saxons’ team average is .301, but offense seems scarce when Davis is on the mound.

“I think they go, ‘OK, we’ve got our ace throwing and he doesn’t lose,’ so they just relax,” Davis said.

Said center fielder Jimmy Henderson: “We know (the opposing team) won’t score, so we don’t have to worry about scoring a lot of runs.”

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“I think we kind of over-relax,” added first baseman Brian Wixom.

Davis helped his cause with 20 RBIs this season. Unlike last year, he spent time in the batting cage, laboring with everyone else, and it showed.

Few are aware of it but Davis is also a superstitious hitter.

“When I’m on deck,” he said, “I have to tap my helmet with the bat three times on top, two on each side, one on top with my hand, rub it with my elbow, put it on and then tap the plate two times with my bat. I try not to let everyone know what I’m doing, so I do it real quick.”

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