Torrance High pitcher Kris Radcliffe has brought a new meaning to the term "living on the edge."
Although he has a basic three-pitch repertoire, the left-handed senior was successful during the regular season thanks to accurate pitch placement. Radcliffe allowed only 13 earned runs and 13 walks in 66 innings pitched. He had 60 strikeouts, seven complete games, a 1.38 earned-run average and an 8-2 record, statistics that rank him among the best pitchers in the South Bay.
On May 8, Radcliffe retired the last 10 batters as Torrance clinched the Pioneer League title with a 2-1 victory over West Torrance. Radcliffe was ahead in the count to 17 of 27 batters in the game.
Backed by the formidable hitting of the team's terrific trio--Antone Williamson, Jason Kendall and Eric Gonzalez--Torrance (20-5) is favored against Mira Costa (12-12) Friday in a first-round Southern Section 4-A Division playoff game at Torrance Park.
"Pitching on the corners and inside has made me a winner," Radcliffe said. "You cannot win if you do not do it. I totally believe that. Let's say that you fall behind in the count 2-0. If you come in with an inside pitch and jam or fool someone, then you can maybe get them out on one pitch with a grounder, rather than have to strike them out."
Williamson explains Radcliffe's success in simpler terms. "He makes people look silly," said the Torrance third baseman. "Ever since I've faced him in Little League, he's always had control of his pitches. As a freshman and sophomore, I think that Kris thought he had something to prove and would try to blow the ball by hitters. This year, he's back to his old way. He gets people out by putting the ball wherever he wants."
Radcliffe has four years of varsity baseball experience. As a freshman and a sophomore, he was mainly used in relief. Last year, Radcliffe posted solid, but not spectacular numbers: a 5-3 record and 3.20 ERA.
However, he had other athletic interests, which helps explain this year's improvement. Throughout high school, Radcliffe dedicated his spare time to working on his basketball game. At 6-foot-3, he played two years for the Torrance varsity, averaging 15.5 points and 4.3 assists during his senior season.
But during the summer before his senior season, Radcliffe made a commitment to baseball.
"Baseball was always easier," Radcliffe said. "With basketball, I probably saw more improvement when I worked, so it seemed more worth putting the time in. But last winter I was in an instructional league. Over the summer I played American Legion ball with Coach (Jeff) Phillips and put more time into baseball, because it can take me farther."
It also is worth noting that Radcliffe is the only Tartar starting pitcher with any previous varsity experience.
"Confidence-wise, it has to help," Williamson said. "He knows that he is the man."
Phillips, the Torrance coach, said: "Kris threw all winter (before the season). He has really been a big positive.
"We had a big discussion about what he needed to do to be successful. I think I told him specifically about poise and focus. He has responded tremendously. . . . When basketball season ended this year, he was ready to start throwing."
Said Radcliffe: "I knew this year was my time. I saw myself improving all along, and by my senior year I was hoping to improve enough where I could lead the team."
Said Williamson: "He knows he is the man. He does not walk anybody. He's got control. He comes from behind on batters or gets ahead of them, whatever. He'll fall behind to a guy, 3-0, and he still comes back to get him out. He knows he's the man."
It also helps to have Williamson, Kendall and Gonzalez as a cornerstones of the lineup. The three are the team's Nos. 3, 4 and 5 hitters.
Williamson, one of the South Bay's top players, has signed a letter of intent to attend Arizona State. He is batting .563 (40 for 71). Kendall, the catcher, is batting .482 (40 for 83) with a 31-game hitting streak, currently the longest in the state, and Gonzalez, who plays left field, is batting .473 (30 for 68). Their composite average is .495 (110 for 222) with 89 runs scored and 106 runs batted in, led by Kendall's school-record 46.
Torrance was only shut out once this year and has scored fewer than five runs in only three games.
"I don't think there is a high school team in the nation with a 3-4-5 order like us," Radcliffe said. "Some guys will come to me before games and tell me about this big pitching matchup I'm in. And I'll say that the other guy is going to be in the hot seat, rather than me. He has to face our guys."
A few other factors also contributed to Radcliffe's development. His father, John, was the Torrance coach for 13 seasons (1969-1980, 1982) and is always ready to give his son advice on pitching to hitters with different stances.
"My dad taught me that the No. 1 thing is to keep the ball down," Radcliffe said. "To find out how low the umpire will call a strike, whether it is the belt, or at the ankles, and then consistently throw it there.
"Dad also would not let me throw a curveball until I was 14, so nothing happened to my arm."
There was also a helpful lesson from Fred Kendall, teammate Jason Kendall's father and a major league catcher for 12 seasons (1969-1980).
"I remember when I was a freshman and was getting bombed by El Segundo," Radcliffe said. "After the game, Jason's dad took me aside and told me about spotting pitches and placement and it really turned me around.