Boys’ Player of the Week : Saunders Is a Hit Pitching for Esperanza
Doug Saunders of Esperanza High School has no illusions about his future as a pitcher.
“Hopefully, I’ll have two more games,” he said.
Meaning that if Esperanza reaches the Southern Section 5-A baseball title game, Saunders may get a chance to pitch in two more games.
And, for the Aztecs to win the championship, they will probably need Saunders to pitch in two games.
Saunders, The Times’ player of the week, is not projected as a pitcher. He was signed by the University of Illinois as a hitter--with good reason. He has a .470 batting average with 9 home runs.
But, at this point in the playoffs, the way Saunders pitches to hitters is as important as how he hits pitchers.
Last week, Saunders did both.
He had 2 home runs and 3 RBIs in a 10-1 victory over Simi Valley in Friday’s quarterfinals. He also scored 2 runs in Tuesday’s 4-1 victory in the second-round game against Bishop Amat.
Saunders also pitched a third of an inning against Bishop Amat for his third save of the playoffs. He threw two more innings against Simi Valley, but did not receive a save as the Aztecs had a 9-0 lead when he entered the game.
“He didn’t get a save, but call up Simi Valley and ask them what they thought of Doug as a pitcher,” Esperanza Coach Mike Curran said. “He was unbelievable. He completely shut them down.”
Saunders has been doing that throughout the season. His eight saves ties him for second with Noah Rosen (Crossroads) on the Southern Section single-season list.
And Saunders needs one more save to tie William Richardson (Tehachapi) for the Southern Section-career record (12).
He already has set Orange County records for saves in a season and career.
“I’m an infielder and that’s all I am,” said Saunders, who starts at second base. “All I have to do is throw over the plate and let the defense take care of it. It’s only 60 feet. If you can’t throw the ball that far, you can’t do anything.”
Saunders never intended to be a pitching star. Even in the youth leagues, where the best athletes usually pitch, Saunders was a hitter. Occasionally he’d start as a pitcher, but only out of necessity.
However, Keith Saunders, an outfielder on Esperanza’s first league championship team in 1984, advised his brother to try pitching when Doug entered high school.
“He told me the best way to get recognized in high school was to pitch and pitch successfully,” Saunders said. “Pitching is easy, pitching successfully is another matter.”
Still, Saunders decided to give it a try.
He pitched a few games for the junior varsity as a freshman and sophomore and had three saves last season on the varsity.
“When I pitched last year, it was mainly for the heck of it,” Saunders said. “It was mostly in the preseason and even then I didn’t do it very often.”
But, he was impressive enough to figure prominently in Curran’s plans for 1988.
Before this season, Saunders was told by Curran that his role as a pitcher would be increased.
“Coach told the pitchers, in fact he told the whole team, that he needed just five innings out of the starters (each game), then I would pitch the last two most of the time,” Saunders said.
It’s a strategy that has Esperanza only two games from the championship.
Jon Leach of Laguna Beach won the singles championship at the Southern Section individual tennis tournament Saturday by defeating Rob Grant of Corona, 7-5, 6-1, at the Fountain Valley Racquet Club.
George Saldana of Saddleback had five hits in two games, as the Roadrunners advanced to the semifinals of the Southern Section 3-A playoffs with victories over Coachella Valley and Dana Hills. Saldana had two home runs against Dana Hills.
Esperanza High School
Position: pitcher/second base
Height, Weight, Class: 5-11, 170, Sr.
Last Week: Saunders hit two home runs, as Esperanza defeated Simi Valley, 10-1, Friday to advance to the Southern Section 5-A semifinals. He also had a save in Tuesday’s 4-1 victory over Bishop Amat in the second round.
Season: Saunders is hitting .470 with 9 home runs. He also has 8 saves, tying for second on Southern Section single season list.