COLLEGE BASEBALL PREVIEWS : OCCIDENTAL : Wild Tigers Now Seem to Be on Target

Times Staff Writer

The baseball season got off to a wild start at Occidental College. Wild, not as in fun, but wild as in lacking control.

In its first two games, Occidental was outscored, 23-3, and many of those runs were the result of walks. Occidental pitchers issued 21 free passes in the two games.

But last weekend the Tigers found reprieve--and the strike zone--sweeping doubleheaders against Pacific Coast Baptist and Christ College.

OK, so they're not exactly the New York Yankees, but Occidental Coach Jeff Henderson will take his wins where he can find them.

"The first games can just be written off . . . those things are correctable," said Henderson, in his fourth season at Occidental. "Our offense has really picked up. We are progressing."

The four-game run could well bolster a green squad that includes nine first-year players and just three returning starters.

"At this point, we're still a mediocre team," Henderson said. "By no means are we where we want to be."

Where the Tigers want to be is atop the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Occidental's conference season opens at home against Whittier on March 3.

Rob Drew, a junior who injured his elbow and was used sparingly last season, leads the Tiger pitching staff. As a freshman, Drew posted a 7-3 record. Freshman Dave Stoll, a southpaw who relies on finesse more than fastballs, is also a starter. In seven innings against Christ College, Stoll struck out 10 batters.

Freshman Mike Bonetto, backup quarterback on the football team, might have the strongest arm on the team and will split time between left field and the mound.

Gone are Mike Davies and Jon Billingsley--the Tigers' top two pitchers last season. Billingsley also played in the outfield, hit .420 and was named the conference's most valuable player.

Henderson says that the pitching staff's inexperience is the team's "weak link" but adds that Occidental's tough defense and few errors (five) have helped his pitchers grow.

"It helps build the confidence of the pitchers to know that they aren't getting sloppy play behind them," he said.

This season's infield is anchored by second baseman Tom Bonetto, a three-year starter, and sophomore Mark Harris, who returns at shortstop. But Doug Madgic and Bruce Fuller, the two other 1988 starters, are gone.

Mike Nicely will spend time at catcher and first and Paul Gamberdella will play at catcher and third. Bart Dalton, a sophomore transfer from L. A. City College, will fill in at first and third.

Mike Bonetto, Steve Holtzman, Andrew Schmitt, Ted Webb, Jason Rusk and Chris Matthews--all first-year players--will share duties in the outfield.

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