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Culver High Hitter’s ‘Luck of the Irish’ Brings Record Four Homers in One Game : Baseball: Troy Dunlap had not hit a home run since Little League until Culver’s game with Faith Baptist.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

When Culver City High School third baseman Troy Dunlap hit four home runs in one game last St. Patrick’s Day to tie a CIF-Southern Section record, a lot of people were surprised, including Troy Dunlap.

“Till that day,” he said, “I hadn’t hit a home run since I played Little League. “

Even then, he had only two homers, and one was in a practice game.

Dunlap said that perhaps a little luck was involved in his recent power display. It came on March 17--St. Patrick’s Day. “I had the luck of the Irish that day.”.

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Playing an outclassed opponent may also have had something to do with the feat. The team he picked on, Faith Baptist in Canoga Park, has an enrollment of about 200 boys and girls, compared to about 1,500 for Culver City High. Athletes at small schools have to spread themselves thin, competing in various sports.

When Faith Baptist lost to Culver, 26-1, in the Redondo Beach High tournament, several of its players, including pitchers, had recently finished playing with the basketball team and hadn’t practiced much baseball, said first-year Culver Coach Bill Coates. So some of the five Faith Baptist pitchers who worked in the loss to Culver City that day were not in mid-season form.

Dunlap said at first that Faith Baptist’s pitching that day “wasn’t as good as I’ve faced this season.” Then he amended that estimate, saying, “Actually the pitching was about average.”

The fences at the Redondo tournament field may be shorter than some, said Coates, but at least three of Dunlap’s round-trippers “would have been out of our park.”

So luck may have played a part in Dunlap’s historic hitting output, but skill also seems to have been at work. Anyone who hits four homers in one day off any kind of pitching can’t just be lucky.

Dunlap said that during the week before the Redondo tournament “I was hitting the ball hard and that day I was hitting the ball hard.”

Indeed he was. He made only one out in five times at bat against Faith Baptist, and both Coates and Dunlap say the out, a line drive speared by the left fielder with his glove above the fence, was probably hit harder than his homers. In addition to his home runs, Dunlap batted in eight runs and walked twice.

He was a .411 hitter last year, and this year he is leading his team at about .460. So he is no Troy-come-lately with a bat in his hand, even if he seems to have come late to hitting the long ball.

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He has not gone on a homer binge since his big day, but he has hit one other since then. His two-run fence-clearing blast late in the game gave Culver a come-from-behind, 5-4 victory over Notre Dame Sherman Oaks. And on another day, he smacked a two-run double off the right-field fence to give the Centaurs a 1-0 win over Ocean League rival Redondo.

He is probably hitting them longer because he is bigger and stronger than he was last year. He also may be hitting them harder because he has emerged from the shadow of two power hitters who graduated from Culver High last year.

Dunlap, a quarterback and defensive back on last year’s Culver football team, said that Lou Lichtl pushed his players into doing more weight training after a losing season in 1988. As a consequence, he went from 160 pounds to 183, he said, and feels much stronger.

Although he hit more than .400 last year, he did so while batting seventh in the order, behind the two heavy hitters, outfielder Todd Steverson, now playing for Arizona State, and first baseman Tim Mitchell, who signed with the Boston Red Sox organization.

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He probably was satisfied to leave the power hitting up to Steverson and Mitchell and just concentrate on making contact, something he did very well last year.

Steverson still has plenty of power. Recently he became only the ninth player in 16 years to hit a home run over the 30-foot-high center-field wall that is 400 feet away from home plate at Arizona State’s Packard Stadium in Tempe.

Dunlap said that he was moved to third base after the beginning of this season and that previously he had played mostly second base and a little bit in left field. He said that before this year “I always characterized myself as a contact, line-drive hitter, but I felt that third base was more of a power position. I’m also batting third in the line-up, and I felt I had to get more RBIs.”

Dunlap has not only worked on improving his hitting but is also a strong believer in self-improvement in all areas of his life.

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He did not receive much notice from college and major league scouts last year, probably because they were more interested in looking over Steverson and Mitchell.

So on Sundays during the last football season he played in games between amateurs for the benefit of major league scouts. “I felt I got their attention because every time I came, I started.”

Last year he didn’t receive many letters from colleges, so at the beginning of this year he wrote letters, each containing a resume and the Culver baseball schedule, to 29 colleges.

In his first attempt at taking the Scholastic Aptitude Test for entering college, he narrowly failed. So he took a class on preparing for the SAT, took the examination again recently and feels confident that he passed.

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Art Harris, who scouts for the Dodgers and was the coach of strong baseball programs at West Los Angeles College and Venice High School for years, said Dunlap works as hard in baseball as he does in other aspects of his life.

“Some kids just practice,” Harris said. “This is a kid who works hard in practice. If you’re looking for improvement, that’s how to get better.”

Has he improved enough to get drafted by a major league team this June? “The draft is somewhat of a gamble,” Harris said. “All it takes is to get one organization to like him, but by the same token, there is no way to tell.

“I think he’s making normal progress. He’s improved each year I’ve seen him and has a chance to get drafted. If he does, he has the ability to make it.”

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Dunlap isn’t sure that he would sign with a major league club immediately after high school. It’s not a matter of money, either.

“Ever since I was 5, I’ve wanted to play sports in college,” he said, adding that becoming a professional right after he graduates would be “a hard decision.”

Coach Coates said that Dunlap is capable of playing baseball either in college or the major leagues. “Troy is one of our quality athletes--not only physically, but he is also a super person. I think he has the physical abilities, and he certainly is mentally into it (baseball).”

Harris said he thinks that Dunlap has the ability to combine football and baseball in college in the same way that Michael Moore (former star at Beverly Hills High School) and Shawn Wills have done at UCLA.

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“He has good speed and does a lot of things very well. He has a long way to go in terms of developing his talent and a long way to go to become a third baseman, but he has good work habits.”


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