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Undefeated South, West Torrance Want Clear Skies for Showdown : Prep softball: Ocean League rivals have had three games rained out this season. They will try again today and Monday.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

With the Ocean League title on the line, how badly do the softball teams at South Torrance and West Torrance high schools want to play each other?

Enough to stay out in the rain all day if they have to.

The rivals, tied for first place with 10-0 records, had their first scheduled game rained out April 4. Two later games were also washed away.

They actually made it into the third inning Monday at South before umpires, fearing injuries and heeding the calls of drenched parents and fans, called off the scoreless game. Despite a heavy downpour and chilly winds, players from both sides begged to have the game continue.

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“It’s not going to get any worse,” pleaded one player whose spirit clearly wasn’t dampened. “Let’s keep going.”

“Come on, it’s not raining that hard,” said another.

Once the game was called off, complaints were heard on both sides, although the fans let out grateful cheers before dashing for the parking lot.

“We don’t care if it’s raining or not. We just really want to play them,” said West freshman designated hitter Nicole Hendrix, who is hitting .319 and leads the Warriors with two home runs. “We’ve been really up for them.

“Monday, it was raining really hard, but we were feeling good.”

South junior shortstop Gillian Boxx said her team shares the excitement. She said she was nervous for the first time in her career before Monday’s game because “they’re such important games coming up. Everyone is waiting to see who is going to be in first place.”

The revised schedule has the two teams playing at West today and at South on Monday in 3 p.m. games.

South and West played once early this season, in the Hawthorne Tournament. South won, 4-0, behind the pitching of sophomore Jacqueline Brown (9-1), but neither team attaches much significance to that meeting, since each was without key players who were still playing basketball or soccer.

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Brown will start Friday against Warrior senior Rosa Olloque (10-0), who has tossed shutouts in seven of her last eight games. Spartan senior Julie DeJaifre (2-1), who missed most of the season with a broken left foot, will start against Olloque on Monday.

The return of DeJaifre, South’s lone senior, could be crucial down the stretch, second-year Coach Larry Lent said.

“I have a good one-two combination, and I always have a backup,” said Lent, whose team is 13-2 overall. “West High has an excellent pitcher in Rosa, but they don’t have a backup if something happens.

“If there is some trouble, I won’t hesitate to make a change. (West) doesn’t have that luxury.”

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Indeed, the Spartans are confident coming into the crucial two-game series. After outscoring league opponents, 99-3, they have a right to be. Also, South has won two straight league crowns (Bay in 1988, Ocean in 1989) and features a two-time league MVP in Boxx. Five Spartans are hitting .378 or better, led by Boxx (.578, four home runs, 20 RBIs, 13 stole bases).

West Coach Jim Carrico, who has guided the Warriors to a 13-4 overall mark, admits that South has a more dominant offense.

“We’ve been playing pressure ball all year,” he said. “We don’t blow anybody away.

“We win 1-0, 2-0. We beat Morningside 4-0, and everybody else had beaten them 20-0.”

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But Carrico--who lost his best hitter, senior first baseman Jennifer Mills (.375), for the season with a broken right arm last month--has three .300 hitters in his lineup and says his team makes good contact. “But we haven’t had the breaks,” he said. “We’ve been hitting the ball right at people.”

Carrico went on to say that South doesn’t give West the respect it deserves.

“Our feeling is that they talk about how they’re peaking and they’re the team to beat,” he said. “But I think it’s great (because) it’s inspiring.”

Some of his players have taken South’s perceived cocky attitude more seriously.

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“They want to beat us bad,” said Hendrix, West’s clean-up hitter. “And we want to beat them bad.

“But they’ve been bringing bad things into it, and we just want a good, clean game. They’re saying that now that (DeJaifre) is back that they’re going to get us, and I don’t think that’s right. I guess she’s supposed to be really hot stuff.

“Personally, I didn’t think she was that great. She is a good pitcher, but nothing we haven’t faced against Redondo or (Mira) Costa.”

West shortstop Brigit Tapp, who is hitting .375 in the lead-off spot, added: “We’re getting more eager to play (South). They say they’re peaking and ready, but they haven’t given us our respect. We’re undefeated too. It’ll just come down to who gets the breaks.”

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Boxx, South’s team leader for three years, said the Spartans also are getting tired of all the talk leading up to the showdown. “It does make you want to kind of just get it over with,” she said.

Lent said it’s understandable that tension is getting to players on both teams. “We’re just all up-tight,” he explained.

Lent thinks both teams will fare well in the Southern Section 3-A playoffs that start in less than two weeks. He also said that although Olloque is “hittable,” she is an excellent pitcher, one of the best in Southern California.

For South, Boxx is especially important in critical games because of her experience on national traveling teams. She has a calming effect on the whole team, Lent said.

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“She never feels pressure, or at least she never shows it,” he said. “There are times in critical situations where I’ll turn to her and ask her what she thinks.

“I can learn from her experiences and take some of the knowledge she has picked up from other coaches.”

Boxx said she accepts her role as a clutch player: “I know that a lot of times I have to be the one to drive in runs.”

She said she takes a simple approach to hitting. “I just try to keep the ball out of the air,” she said. “If I hit a grounder or a line drive, I feel like I’m doing my job.”

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Helping Boxx produce runs for the Spartans are freshman third baseman Nicole Odom (.418), junior catcher Deirdre Baker (.406), freshman designated hitter Rachel Bosma (.400) and junior first baseman Monica Emmrich (.378, 14 stolen bases).

Sophomore left fielder Beth Tapp (.340), joins sister Brigit and Hendrix as West’s offensive leaders. But, of course, big offensive production isn’t the Warriors’ forte.

“Defense is our strength,” Carrico said. “It’s been keeping us in games all year.”

Olloque, who has a 0.22 ERA and averages less than two walks per game, recognizes that strength, the coach said.

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“Rosa throws strikes and makes them put it in play,” Carrico said. “Don’t get me wrong; she has over 100 strikeouts. But she doesn’t have to be a big strikeout pitcher all the time.”

Carrico calls Brigit Tapp “the backbone of the defense,” but he said senior catcher Mary Litzenberg is the true field general. “She’s in charge out there,” he said. “And Rosa and everyone else listen to what she says.

“After working with me for a couple of years, she knows how I think and what I want.”

All West and South want this afternoon are are sunny skies, a dry field, respect and first place.

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