Prep Baseball: New Season--New Faces : St. Bernard's Melendez Could Replace Scott Davison as Brightest Star

Times Staff Writer

Welcome to 1989 AD ( After Davison ) . The prep baseball season gets under way today, weather permitting, without several familiar faces who inhabited South Bay ballparks for the better part of the last decade.

Gone but not forgotten are:

- Scott Davison, the Redondo pitcher-shortstop who led the Sea Hawks to four league championships and set three Southern Section records in a remarkable prep career.

- Heath Jones, the El Segundo pitcher-first baseman whose stellar play over four years was the impetus behind the Eagles' continued success.

- Royce Clayton, the flashy St. Bernard shortstop who culminated a dazzling career by being a first-round draft choice of the San Francisco Giants.

- Redondo Coach Harry Jenkins, who stepped down after guiding the Sea Hawks to 10 league titles and 13 playoff appearances in 18 seasons.

"Without Harry there, it's going to leave some kind of void," said El Segundo Coach John Stevenson, one of Jenkins' chief competitors through the years. "It's hard for me to point to any really strong teams. I think St. Bernard could be strong because they have the one superstar."

If there is an heir apparent to Davison in the area, it could be Dan Melendez of St. Bernard. The senior left-hander, who pitches and plays first base, won the South Bay triple crown last season by hitting .563 with 14 home runs and 51 RBIs. On the mound, he was 7-2 with a 1.52 ERA.

"I think he's great," said Stevenson, who coached Melendez last summer on El Segundo's American Legion team. "He's a hitter, an excellent defensive first baseman and a very, very capable pitcher. He doesn't throw exceptionally hard, but his ball moves and he's got a good curveball."

Melendez figures to make a run at the Southern Section record for career homers. With 19, he is within striking range of Simi Valley's Scott Sharts, who hit 32 from 1986 to '88.

Finding a No. 1 team to replace Redondo, which was 30-3 and reached the 4-A semifinals last year, is considerably more difficult. The leading candidates appear to be North Torrance, El Segundo, St. Bernard and San Pedro, but there are no teams regarded as highly as the 1988 Davison-led Sea Hawks.

That's just fine with Stevenson, beginning his 30th season at El Segundo.

"I was sick of him," he said of Davison, tongue in cheek. "Nobody should have to play a guy like that for four years."

Following is a rundown of the top 10 teams in the South Bay. Last year's record is in parentheses:

1. North Torrance (18-9)--All the signals point to North enjoying a fine season. The Saxons return four starters from last year's Bay League champion team and they have a good group of players coming up from the junior varsity squad that won the league title. Heading the list of returners are all-league outfielder Brian Dessert, who will also play first base and pitch; catcher Tony Pruett, an all-league outfielder last season as a sophomore; left-handed pitcher Leo Cheatham, who posted a 5-2 record in 1988, and shortstop John Clem, who moves over from third base.

Coach Mike Neily will also count heavily on right-handed pitchers Scott Diekmann and Ty Tout, newcomers to the varsity. But offense figures to be North's strength. "We seem to be swinging the bat real well," Neily said. "And we run well." The Saxons, who could meet El Segundo on Saturday in an attractive second-round game in the El Segundo Tournament, won their division in the Culver City summer league. Look for North and Culver City to battle for the Ocean League title.

2. El Segundo (22-9)--Although El Segundo returns only one starter, the good news for Eagle fans is that a promising group of players from last year's 26-2 junior varsity team will fill out the squad. The bad news is that arguably the most promising of the newcomers, left-handed pitcher Jason Wayt, is sidelined indefinitely with an injury to his throwing arm. With Wayt out of the picture, El Segundo will count on a pair of right-handers--junior Rob Croxall and senior Rick Clark--to carry the pitching load.

Center fielder Erik Evans returns after hitting .349 last year. An all-CIF running back who signed to play football for Hawaii, Evans figures to be the spiritual leader of a young El Segundo team. Junior Mark Lewis, a transfer from Rolling Hills, will start at shortstop. Coach Stevenson is also high on catcher Garret Quantance, a junior with a strong arm and bat. Inexperience is the main concern. "I never had a team that is totally new like this," said Stevenson. "It's kind of exciting to see what's going to happen." El Segundo and St. Bernard are considered the favorites in the Camino Real League.

3. St. Bernard (22-4)--Melendez showed Saturday that he hasn't lost his touch. In a scrimmage with University of West L.A., he homered to center field against all-City pitcher Eric Alexander. His coach, Bob Yarnall, says Melendez has made greater strides as a pitcher. "I would say his pitching has improved more than anything," he said. "With an off-season weight program, he picked up eight to 10 miles per hour on his fastball. He also picked up a knuckle ball, which looks pretty good. With a curveball and change-up, he's got four good pitches."

Melendez's supporting cast lacks experience--none were varsity starters last year--but they are talented, Yarnall said. Right-handed pitcher Al Ibarra could not play for the varsity last season because his family did not move after he transferred from Culver City. So, he terrorized junior varsity teams, pitching two no-hitters and carrying an 0.12 ERA. He'll be the Vikings' No. 2 pitcher and cleanup hitter. Big things are also expected from catcher Greg Pennell, center fielder Chris Richardson and freshman shortstop Grant Hohman, whom Yarnall compares to Clayton at the same age.

4. San Pedro (20-6)--Coach Jerry Lovarov is back for his 28th season with a seasoned team that returns five starters and seven lettermen from last year's league co-championship squad. Senior right-hander Joey Camello, who posted a 6-0 record and perfect 0.00 ERA in the Marine League last year, heads the pitching staff. Other returners are junior catcher Dale Johnson (.313), outfielders Matthew Rasband (.383) and Joey Miller and second baseman Ken Stapleton. Willie Sanchez, a varsity starter as a sophomore who did not play last season, is penciled in at shortstop, where Rasband played in 1988. San Pedro and Banning are expected to battle for the league title, but what else is new? They tied for the crown last season.

5. Banning (21-8)--The Pilots, who have built a reputation as overachievers, won't be able to sneak up on anybody this season. They boast an experienced team headed by five returning starters. All-leaguer Chico Limas is the top pitcher and will catch when he's not on the mound. Second baseman Eric Fierro and shortstop Jesse Espinoza, first-team all-league picks last year, will add to Banning's strength up the middle. Coach Syl Saavedra is also counting on third baseman Julian Pardo and Jesus Olea, who will split time at pitcher and first base.

6. Redondo (30-3)--Many coaches are overlooking the Sea Hawks because of the loss of Davison and six other starters, but first-year Coach Tim Ammentorp says that could be a mistake. "When we started, I was concerned," he said. "But things have really improved." Redondo will rebuild around second baseman Brian Davison and catcher Robbie Zeller, the lone returning starters. Brian, a junior, is Scott's brother. Others who look promising are shortstop-pitcher Mike Houck, center fielder Ronnie Brooks and two young pitchers: sophomore Brian Fitzgerald and freshman Frank Bignami, both right-handers.

7. Serra (14-16)--The Cavaliers ended a 14-year drought last season by qualifying for the Southern Section playoffs. Now, second-year Coach Darren Fleming says they are ready to make a run for the Camino Real League title. Serra's experienced team is led by seven returning starters. Most notable are all-league outfielder Torrie Sweet (.480), third baseman Chris Jones (.340), catcher Mack Davis (.300) and second baseman Kevin Kay (.330). But do the Cavaliers have the pitching to challenge El Segundo and St. Bernard? Jeff Hazelitt and Anthony Williams will answer that.

8. Westchester (8-6-1)--Coach Ron Kasparian says the Comets' hopes are riding on a nucleus of four returning starters. Left-handed pitcher Victor Darensbourg, an all-league outfielder last season, heads a group that includes catcher Steve Raack, first baseman Damon Slack and shortstop Jason Frank. Westchester figures to have its hands full in league play against Palisades, Venice and University.

9. Torrance (3-18)--Although the Tartars may have lost their top pitcher, left-hander Dennis Miller, for the season because an arm laceration suffered in a car accident, new Coach Jeff Phillips remains optimistic. Sophomore third baseman Antone Williamson, who batted .400 and was named all-Bay League last season, heads seven returning starters. Pitching will be the key. Sophomore left-hander Kris Radcliffe, son of former Torrance Coach John Radcliffe, and senior right-hander Ryan Siebert need to come through.

10. Leuzinger (12-16)--The Olympians expect to rally behind ace left-hander Tyrone Scott, who pitched several fine games last season but unfortunately found himself overshadowed in a league that included Redondo's Scott Davison and El Segundo's Heath Jones. Derrel Thomas, the former Dodger, returns for his second season as head coach.

Other teams to watch:

Palos Verdes could make waves in the Bay League with the return of two first-team all-league selections: second baseman Lance Haworth and outfielder Spuds Powell. On the other side of the Peninsula, Miraleste boasts first baseman Chad Somers, who hit .444 with 11 homers and 41 RBIs last year.

First-year Coach Jim Beaumont of Mira Costa has five starters back, including all-Ocean League catcher David Jund (.400). Lester Sakurai, the new coach at Hawthorne, will rely on standout shortstop Ken Alexander (.413) in the Bay League.

A young Bishop Montgomery team will find the going tough in the Angelus League, but senior right-hander Erik Russell should keep the Knights close in games that he pitches. South Torrance, under new Coach Marc Gerhardt, returns all-league shortstop Andy MacTaggart.

Chadwick is considered a challenger in the Prep League with the return of left-handed pitcher Greg O'Riordan and catcher Todd Seneker, both all-league picks in 1988.

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