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PREVIEW : Pitching Aces Enter Final on a Roll

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It might go down as the most interesting outing of Reed McMackin’s high school baseball career. But then, some guys go to Indy just for the crashes.

On March 28, the Chatsworth High right-hander was pitching a no-hitter against San Fernando. True, he was removed from the game in the first inning, but it wasn’t because of injury.

The catch? Ask the catcher.

Zero outs. Zero official at-bats.

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“I remember it distinctly,” said Chatsworth catcher Mike Mancuso. “He walked the first three and took a break--he hit the next guy--then he walked another four.”

Chatsworth lost, 9-2, and McMackin’s record fell to 3-2, hardly the numbers expected from one of Chatsworth’s two returning regulars. But punishment, even self-inflicted, carried a lesson. McMackin’s earned-run average wasn’t the only thing that grew.

“I think the best thing for Reed was losing that game, even though it was bad for the team,” first-year Chatsworth Coach Tom Meusborn said. “I think he matured. He’s really led the way ever since.”

Since the San Fernando start, McMackin has rolled off nine consecutive victories to lead Chatsworth (23-5-1) into the City Section 4-A Division final against El Camino Real (21-2-1) at Dodger Stadium tonight at 7:30.

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“It was a humbling experience,” said McMackin, a 6-foot, 190-pound senior. “I thought I was God’s gift to the pitching world.”

Ever since, McMackin’s numbers have been wholly rolling. In his nine-game tear, he has thrown three shutouts. Included in the stretch are three five-hitters, a four-hitter, a three-hitter and a one-hitter.

The three-hit, six-strikeout performance came in a 9-3 victory over El Camino Real on April 24, the Conquistadores’ only loss to a City team this year.

El Camino Real is expected to counter with a streak shooter of its own in senior right-hander Pat Treend (12-0).

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In the teams’ first meeting on March 13, Ryan McGuire defeated Chatsworth, 6-2, with Treend pitching the final 1 2/3 innings to earn a save. McMackin, who started and was removed in the fifth, took the loss.

In the third meeting between the two West Valley League rivals, Treend defeated Chatsworth, 11-8, on April 26, two days after McMackin’s win. In short, each team won once in decisive fashion, with the wild rubber game going to El Camino Real--a win in which Treend threw 143 pitches over seven innings.

Treend, who tossed a one-hitter in a 3-1 semifinal defeat of San Fernando last Friday, has struck out 100 batters in 84 2/3 innings and has an earned-run average of 1.24. McMackin has 71 strikeouts in 79 innings and an ERA of 1.95.

The rest of the battery carries a charge too. Each team’s catcher bats in the cleanup position. El Camino Real’s Bobby Kim is batting .375, has three home runs and has driven in 26 runs. Mancuso is batting .333 with 29 RBIs and has four hits in his past five at-bats against Treend dating to last season.

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Kim and Mancuso could be the best defensive catchers in the City. Given each team’s lack of speed--Jeff Marks leads El Camino Real with five stolen bases and Scott Carpenter leads Chatsworth with 10--offenses may rely on the sacrifice bunt as their chief weapon in a tight game.

Mancuso and No. 3-hitter Nestor Martinez (.426, 38 runs, 12 doubles, 24 RBIs) have cooled in the playoffs--Martinez, a second baseman, is hitless in his last three games--but Chatsworth has received help from other areas.

Center fielder Mitch Root, who bats sixth, is batting .404 with team highs in home runs (three) and RBIs (35). In three playoff games, Root is six for nine with three triples and a home run. McMackin, who bats fifth and is the designated-hitter when not pitching, is batting .400 with 28 RBIs.

El Camino Real is equally solid through the batting order, especially in the top six places. McGuire, who also plays first, has five home runs and 23 RBIs in the No. 2 position, followed by left fielder Jason Cohen (.368, 23 RBIs), Kim, third baseman Greg Lederman (.493, 23 RBIs) and Treend (.371, 27 RBIs).

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Senior left-handers McGuire and, for Chatsworth, Danny Rodriguez are the probable relievers should Treend or McMackin falter. Rodriguez is 6-2 with an ERA of 2.62. McGuire, who will attend UCLA in the fall, is 7-1 with a 1.84 ERA and 91 strikeouts in 57 innings.

Meusborn is seeking to become the second consecutive rookie coach to win a City title. Kennedy’s Manny Alvarado won in his first season in 1989. Chatsworth, which features four juniors in the starting lineup, last won a City title in 1983.

El Camino Real, which has never won a baseball championship, actually started to jell midway through the 1989 season when it won nine of its last 10. Furthermore, eight starters played last summer on the Woodland Hills West team that won the American Legion World Series and finished 38-7.

That’s a cumulative record of 68-10-1 over the past 14 months for the core Conquistadore players. Additionally, Treend was 13-1 for West last summer.

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“I think they’re definitely beatable,” Mancuso said. “But it’s going to take a terrific game with no mistakes.”

El Camino Real also might have a slight edge in big-game hunting: En route to the Legion title, Woodland Hills West played several games in three different cities before large, often partisan crowds. A handful were night games.

“I think that was a learning experience for them,” said El Camino Real Coach Mike Maio, who took the Conquistadores to the final in 1984 when they lost to Granada Hills. “But I don’t think anything compares to walking into Dodger Stadium.”

Now that’s the kind of walk McMackin has in mind.

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