North Torrance Coach Mike Neily welcomed the start of the Ocean League baseball season this week more than he usually does.
“It gives us a chance to start over,” he said.
Neily would just as soon forget North’s pre-league games. The Saxons, considered one of the South Bay’s top teams before the season, posted a disappointing 1-5-1 record, their worst start in 10 seasons under Neily.
“I’ve never had a team start 0-2 before,” he said. “If we lost the opener, we always won the second.”
North’s winless streak lasted considerably longer this time. The Saxons were 0-5-1 before they beat Hawthorne, 3-1, behind a two-hitter by senior left-hander Leo Cheatham two weeks ago.
Until then, Neily says he was dumbfounded by his team’s futility.
“It makes you stop and take a step back,” he said. “I began to think, ‘Is it the coaching or is it something we’re going to be able to work out?’ It’s made for some long evenings.”
Neily was confident entering the year. After all, North returned four starters from last season’s Bay League championship team and had a strong nucleus of players coming up from the junior varsity league titlist. The Saxons also played well during the summer.
It all added up to a No. 1 ranking in a preseason poll by The Times.
But once the regular season started, North’s troubles began. Pitchers gave up big hits, the defense suffered breakdowns and offensively the Saxons were erratic. Nonetheless, Neily can see a silver lining.
“We’re hitting .300 as a team and we stole 29 bases in 31 attempts in our first four games,” he said. “We’re doing a lot of good things. But judging from our record, it certainly doesn’t look like it.
“It’s been a real eye-opener for our team. I think they realize that you have to continue to work hard and not assume you’re going to win just because you walk on the field.”
Pitching has been North’s most glaring weakness. Neily said the team ERA is just under 6.00.
“The pitchers have been losing their concentration,” he said. “Another problem is that we haven’t established one or two guys as team leaders. Nobody has taken charge.
“We were successful last summer, and basically this is the same group of kids. I just feel the kids we counted on haven’t taken charge yet. That’s not saying they won’t, but they’ve been struggling. Maybe they’re trying to do too much.”
Neily hopes the Saxons can find the answers by Friday. That’s when they play host to Culver City, which was considered their main competitor for the Ocean League title.
“There’s been a lot of doubt on the kids’ faces these days, including mine,” he said. “When you start the year losing that many games, you start questioning things. But I think we’ll come alive and be in contention for the (league) title.
“These kids have won in the past and I think they’re still winners.”
Westchester’s baseball team has taken on a Jekyll and Hyde personality, depending on the presence of pitcher Victor Darensbourg.
The Comets are 3-1 in games Darensbourg has pitched. When the left-hander is not on the mound, they are 1-5.
“He’s overcome me, the team and everybody else,” Westchester Coach Ron Kasparian said. “He might be able to carry us for a little while.”
Darensbourg, a 5-8 senior, is 3-0 since losing in the season opener to St. Bernard and has 38 strikeouts in 26 innings. He has been especially effective in two Western League games, striking out 22 in 14 innings and posting a 1.50 ERA.
Kasparian said Darensbourg’s success is linked to his high strikeout rate. Westchester has had difficulty making routine defensive plays, committing 15 errors in five league games. The Comets (2-3) are tied for second in league play with Venice, two games behind Palisades.
“More or less everybody (in the league) has one good pitcher,” Kasparian said. “It’s going to come down to whose No. 1 pitcher does the best job.”
Bishop Montgomery baseball Coach Bob Anderson says this is a crucial week for his team, even though the Knights are on Easter vacation and have a break from Angelus League play.
Anderson hopes the camaraderie of spending four days together on a road trip will bring the players closer together. Bishop Montgomery (9-2-1) plays at Dos Pueblos High in Goleta today and at Santa Maria on Saturday night.
“Our team will find out if it’s going to become one unit or stay as individuals,” he said. “We have to stop being individuals. If we can, I think we’ll be OK.”
Anderson says the Knights have opened league play with a 1-2 mark because some players put themselves above the team. It’s the age-old question: Would you rather go 0 for 4 and have the team win or go 4 for 4 and have the team lose?
“Hopefully they would answer the former,” Anderson said. “But I think it’s unique nowadays to find a total team. You try to instill that the team comes first, but it’s tough to make everybody believe that.”
The coach says it’s the only way Bishop Montgomery can make the playoffs for the first time from the competitive Angelus League.
“I’m praying that they do come together,” he said.
PREP NOTES--Inglewood forward Harold Miner, a repeat selection, headed three South Bay players on the All-CIF Southern Section Division II basketball team. Miner was joined on the first team by Torrance guard Rick Robison, one of only two juniors on the senior-dominated unit. Redondo forward Mike Houck was a second-team choice. Rolling Hills center John Hardy, another repeat selection, topped three area players on the Division III team. Joining Hardy on the first team was Morningside forward Eddie Scott. Rolling Hills guard Mark Tesar was named to the second team. The Division IV team included two South Bay players: El Segundo forward Shawn Foster, a first-team pick, and Miraleste forward Scott Klein, who was chosen to the second squad. Mary Star guard Richard Negrete was a first-team Division V choice. Inglewood resident Mitchell Butler of North Hollywood Oakwood was named Division V Player of the Year. The 6-5 guard, who signed early with UCLA, was the Small Schools Player of the Year in 1987 and ’88. . . . Nothing is official yet, but sources say St. Bernard will move back to the Angelus League in the 1990-91 school year. The Vikings are expected to replace Anaheim Servite, which will move to the Del Rey League. The Playa del Rey school currently competes in the Camino Real League. . . . Infielder Ted Holcomb, a former All-L.A. City shortstop for Westchester, was released Monday by the Atlanta Braves.
South Bay’s Baseball Top 10 Selected by Times Sportswriters Through Tuesday’s Games Rank, School, League: Record 1 St. Bernard (Camino Real): 8-3 2 Leuzinger (Bay): 7-2-1 3 Bishop Mont. (Angelus): 9-2-1 4 El Segundo (Camino Real): 6-3 5 Banning (Pacific): 7-4 6 Mary Star (Santa Fe): 7-5 7 San Pedro (Pacific): 5-5 8 Redondo (Ocean): 4-4 9 Hawthorne (Bay): 4-3 10 Palos Verdes (Bay): 4-3