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CITY SECTION BASEBALL CHAMPIONSHIP : A Cautious Battery Defuses Tagliaferri’s Explosive Bat

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

Say it ain’t so, Gino.

Everyone was pulling for you. They chanted your name-- Geen-O! Geen-O! Geen-O! --every time you stepped to the plate in Thursday night’s City Section 4-A Division championship game at Dodger Stadium.

The chant grew more frenetic with each repetition, like a freight train pulling out of the depot. A sea of humanity dressed in Kennedy High brown and gold was on its collective feet, cheering its favorite Golden Cougar with the major league stubble of beard on his face.

You had a lot to answer to, Gino Tagliaferri.

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Throughout the day, friends, classmates and teachers had approached Tagliaferri, Kennedy’s senior shortstop-slash-slugger, with a common plea.

“ ‘Hit one out, Gino,’ ” Tagliaferri said. “People were coming up to me in the halls, (saying), ‘Gino, I expect you to hit a home run tonight . . . all the way up in the blue section in left field.’ Or, ‘You’ve hit home runs all year long, you gotta hit one in Dodger Stadium.’ ”

Indeed, Tagliaferri had made the round-tripper almost routine throughout his brilliant high school career, especially this season when he blasted 13 to lead Valley-area players.

Tagliaferri hit two home runs in postseason play, including a two-run shot in Wednesday’s 8-7 semifinal win over Sylmar. And three times, Tagliaferri had hit two home runs in a game.

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What better way to cap a brilliant high school career than with a moon shot and home run trot in Chavez Ravine?

Sounds good, but it’s pretty difficult to hit pitches in the dirt.

Kennedy defeated Palisades, 4-3. But, alas, Gino Tagliaferri, in four plate appearances, failed to hit one out.

Gino didn’t see a decent pitch.

“I lost it up here,” Tagliaferri said pointing to his temple. “I knew they were going to pitch around me, but I just lost my concentration.”

Of course, giving Tagliaferri nothing was exactly the plan of Palisades senior right-hander Mario Cobian and three-year catcher Jason Beckerman.

Cobian had faced Tagliaferri in a Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau game last summer. And Tagliaferri tagged Cobian.

“He didn’t hit a home run,” Cobian said. “But from what I remember, he got a couple of hits off me. He hit the ball hard.

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“We’re gonna mix it up a little with him. A little off-speed stuff.”

Said Beckerman: “Bite the corners, high and in, low and away.”

Translation: Pitch around him.

Which is probably quite a compliment to the 5-foot-11, 190-pound power hitter who has signed to attend Fresno State in the fall.

But still a disappointing finish to a much-lauded high school career.

“Yeah, I’m disappointed,” said Tagliaferri, who hit 23 career home runs. “I wanted to hit one. It was on my mind. But I’ll take an 0 for three to get a victory.”

It hardly seems accurate to say that Tagliaferri had his chances, but here they are:

In the first inning, he walked on a full-count pitch. Cobian threw two balls in the dirt and two fastballs--one a low and outside pitch for ball four.

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In the second, Tagliaferri struck out swinging with runners on first and second. The high fastball on which Tagliaferri struck out was probably the best “hitter’s” pitch he saw all evening.

In the fifth, Tagliaferri lined a 2-2 hanging curve into left field where Refugio Alvarez hurried to make a two-handed grab.

With one out and the bases empty in the seventh, Tagliaferri struck out on three pitches, all curves--the first one fouled away, the third swung on and missed in the dirt with the out recorded at first base.

All told, Tagliaferri was offered 20 pitches, six of which he fouled, two of which he swung on and missed and 11 of which he let pass. That’s 0 for 3 if you’re scoring.

But that’s one happy Gino Tagliaferri you’ll see walking around with a championship ring on his finger.

“The most important thing I heard all day,” Tagliaferri said, “is ‘Bring it home for us, Gino. Bring back the City championship.’ ”

Mission accomplished, Geen-O!


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