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Once Harbor Stopper John Ingram Got Serious, the Batters Got Nervous : JC baseball: The fireballing reliever has lost 40 pounds and gained a breaking pitch and new maturity.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

While most of his fellow students spent cool summer hours on Southland beaches, Harbor College pitcher John Ingram was sweating bullets in Wilmington. It paid off. Now the former Leuzinger High School standout is throwing bullets and has emerged as Harbor’s top reliever.

After a disappointing freshman season in which he seldom played, Ingram dedicated every spare moment last summer to baseball. He got into top physical shape and mastered a breaking pitch that complements his overpowering fastball.

“He worked his butt off,” said Harbor assistant coach Tony Bloomfield, a former assistant at the University of Nevada-Reno. “I put him on a strict conditioning routine. John worked harder than I think he’s ever worked in his life.”

Ingram, 20, spent the hot summer days throwing, lifting weights and running. Lots of running. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound left-hander lost 40 pounds and improved practically every facet of his game.

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This season Ingram is the stopper on a club that possesses a remarkably deep and solid pitching staff and a 32-3 record (11-0 in league play).

Harbor’s aces include sophomores Jeff Hunter (7-0), Pat Ahearne (7-1), Sky Lasowitz (4-0) and Ryan Karp (3-0), as well as freshman Chico Limas (3-0) from Banning High.

Ingram has the team’s second-best earned-run average (1.85), a 2-0 record and four saves. He also has an impressive 31 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings and a perfect 0.00 ERA in the Southern California Athletic Conference.

“We know that every time John Ingram takes the mound, the game is over,” said Bloomfield, an all-state shortstop at Harbor in 1982 and 1983. “He has a lot of desire now and a very positive attitude.”

The second-year assistant coach says that wasn’t always the case, however.

“On this team we stress PMA--positive mental attitude--and he’d never had it,” Bloomfield said. “John was always labeled as a lazy person, as a non-winner, by (pro) scouts and four-year schools.”

Last season Ingram lived up to the bad rap. He seldom went to practice, and when he did he lacked motivation and dedication. In addition, Ingram had only one weapon, his fastball, which got nailed by opponents in the playoffs.

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“(Last season) he didn’t pitch much because he was a flake,” said Harbor Coach Jim O’Brien, who has led the Seahawks to 10 conference championships and two state titles in 15 years. “He was overweight, he missed practice and he just couldn’t get his feet on the ground.”

Despite this, the coach said, it was evident that Ingram had great potential. He simply needed a push.

“Anyone could see the great talent,” O’Brien said. “He’s a stopper. He’s a guy that changes games around. This season he’s been completely overpowering. We clocked him at 88 miles per hour on a slow (radar) gun. He’s just a great power pitcher.”

Ingram doesn’t see last season as a waste, though he admits that there was a problem, one he can’t seem to pinpoint.

“I guess I just wasn’t as serious about it,” he said last week while watching the team stretch before practice. “I didn’t work as hard, and I just did what I had to do to get by. I was also real up-tight. This year I’m loose and I’m having a good time because I’m relaxed and calm.”

His mother, Carol, said a big factor in her son’s success is that he has matured tremendously in the last year.

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“He’s a changed person,” she said. “He’s got the winning attitude now. He really is on an upward swing.”

More than anything else, Ingram says, a burning desire to pitch in more games inspired his turnaround.

According to Bloomfield, not getting drafted at the end of last season was Ingram’s biggest motivator.

“I think that’s what really brought him down to earth,” Bloomfield said. “He was drafted by the (Milwaukee) Brewers out of high school, and he didn’t get drafted last year. No one really looked at him, and I think that really got to him.”

Milwaukee’s offer in 1987 was far from spectacular. Ingram said the Brewers offered him $2,500 to sign with their farm team. Another option was attending Cal State Fullerton, but his high school grades weren’t up to par.

“I was young and ignorant,” Ingram said.

At Leuzinger, the burly pitcher had “K,” the symbol for strikeout, shaved into the side of his head. Ingram was the team’s most valuable pitcher in 1986 and 1987, helping the Olympians reach the playoffs both years. As a senior he had a 16-3 record.

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Ingram also played two seasons in the Connie Mack amateur baseball league for premier high school players and collegiate underclassmen. In 1987 he led his club to a second-place finish at the Continental Connie Mack World Series in Tennessee.

However, that same year Ingram experienced a great loss. Three days after Leuzinger’s last CIF game, the school’s baseball coach, Dennis Bowman, died of a heart attack while playing golf in Long Beach. He was 41.

“I took it real hard,” Ingram said softly while tugging on his blue baseball cap. “I just couldn’t believe it. I still don’t believe it.”

Carol Ingram said Bowman’s death is the hardest thing her son has experienced.

“Johnny was very close to him,” she said. “It was very difficult for him. Bowman was the only other male role model in his life besides his father, and he was very attached to him.”

Ingram, who lives in Hawthorne with his parents, had nowhere to compete after high school, so he enrolled at El Camino College. He transferred to Harbor after redshirting in 1988.

“I just wasn’t happy (at El Camino),” Ingram said. “I can’t really pinpoint what exactly it was, but I was very unhappy, so I called Coach O’Brien.”

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Ingram likes his role at Harbor, although it lacks the glamour of the starting position he had in high school.

“Now I’m a stopper,” he said, “and I love that thrill. When the game is on the line, it’s on your shoulders, and I know I can do it.”

Sophomore catcher Gus Mungaray says Ingram has good reason to be confident.

“He doesn’t worry about what he’s doing now,” Mungaray said. “He just does it. He just throws real hard. Sometimes, against the weaker teams, you can tell guys are scared when they come up to the plate. They just don’t want to be up there against John’s pitches.”

Ingram plans to compete at a four-year college next season unless he gets a good pro offer. He said Fullerton and Cal State Northridge have shown interest, as have the Houston Astros.

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