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The High Schools : Defending City Champion Monroe Prepares to Quiet Skepticism

What do Tim Costic, Sean Henson and the rest of the Monroe High baseball team have in common with Rodney Dangerfield?

Well, let’s just say that recognition from peers for a job well done is slow in coming.

“We think we have something to prove this year,” said Henson, a junior left-hander. “Last year, no one believed it. We weren’t supposed to do anything.”

Yet, the Vikings did everything. Henson (4-4) rebounded from academic ineligibility to pitch a five-hitter with 10 strikeouts in the City Section 4-A Division final, a 3-2 victory over San Fernando.

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Costic, The Times’ Valley Player of the Year, batted .426 with five home runs, 11 doubles and 37 runs batted in.

Both players admit it was an improbable season. Monroe, the only fourth-place team to win the 4-A title, finished 13-16.

Critics, Costic said, explain the Vikings’ ascent from Mid-Valley League mediocrity to City champions with one word: fluke.

“I’d like to go out there and have a good season and show that it wasn’t,” Costic said.

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Said Henson: “I think there wasn’t a team we couldn’t beat last year. But people were saying, ‘Oh, it was luck.’

“This year, we want to prove that it wasn’t a fluke.”

Monroe opened the season Thursday with an 8-2 nonleague win over Buckley. One thing is certain: The victory was no fluke.

Buckley, a Southern Section school of 280 students, was 2-17 last year and 0-10 in the Delphic League. Monroe opens league play Tuesday at Birmingham.

Why worry?: What’s all this fuss about Chatsworth losing a couple of ballgames?

“Everybody’s saying, ‘What’s wrong,’ and we’re 2-2,” Coach Bob Lofrano quipped before Saturday’s 12-2 victory over Hueneme in the Westside tournament.

Lofrano, however, is not amused with his team’s early performance, especially Thursday’s game against Rio Mesa in which the Chancellors committed six errors.

“Defensively,” Lofrano said, “we stunk.”

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After opening the season with a 19-2 rout of Ventura, Chatsworth lost to Notre Dame, 6-5, after leading, 4-0, through four innings.

That was followed by a 9-6 loss to Canyon (5-15 last year) before an eight-run, eighth-inning rally finally felled Rio Mesa, 13-5.

Lofrano considers it “a compliment to the program” that because of shaky play the Chancellors are under scrutiny. Last year, Chatsworth was 25-2 and ranked No. 1 nationwide by Collegiate Baseball and USA Today.

The Chancellors lost to San Fernando, 5-2, in the City 4-A semifinals. “But the way we’re playing,” junior right-hander Reed McMackin said, “we don’t want to be No. 1.”

Said Lofrano: “We’re disappointed, but it’s not push-the-panic-button time. We need to play better and everybody knows it, from me all the way down to the last kid on the team.

“You can’t just say, ‘Oh, well, it’s only a scrimmage,’ or ‘Oh, well, it’s only a tournament game,’ or pretty soon it’s gonna be, ‘Oh, well, it’s only the last game of the season.’ ”

Add Chatsworth: Lofrano offered some constructive criticism to the L. A. Unified School District last week. Construction was scheduled to begin last week at Chatsworth to erect a screen 20 feet above the existing 15-foot left-field fence. The purpose is to prevent home runs from rattling apartment windows across the street.

Yet, there has not been so much as a delivery of a fence post.

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“I expressed displeasure about the whole thing,” Lofrano said, “and requested that the job be done during spring break or at the end of the season.”

Chatsworth is scheduled to open West Valley League play at home Tuesday against Canoga Park.

Last add Chatsworth: Lofrano was selected head coach of a U. S. Baseball Federation high school all-star team that will travel to Seoul for the Friendship Series, Aug. 28 through Sept. 5.

OK Corrales: Ask San Fernando Coach Steve Marden about the talents of senior shortstop Bobby Corrales, and Marden develops a bad case of amnesia.

Corrales has made Marden forget all about his shortstop of last year, Albert Torres, an All-City selection who batted a school-record .514 in Mid-Valley League play.

“Like I’ve been saying to anybody who’ll listen, ‘Albert Torres who?’ ” Marden quips.

A few months ago, the same could be said of Corrales, who spent the first half of last season on the bench. A mid-season batting slump, however, prompted lineup changes and Corrales delivered as a designated-hitter (.371 average, 13 RBIs).

Corrales had a clutch grand slam against Granada Hills and later helped defeat Chatsworth in a 4-A semifinal with another home run.

But Corrales’ offense--he was four for five and drove in five runs in the La Canada tournament championship victory over St. Francis--is not the only reason he stands out, Marden insists.

“He’s improved so much with his glove that he’s better right now than Albert was at the end of the season last year,” Marden said.


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