THE PREPS / ERIC SHEPARD : Southland Baseball Teams Draw National Attention
A surge in the number of national prep polls in recent years has been a hit with coaches and athletes. Traditional powers have been able to see how they rate with other top teams across the country.
The polls, compiled by various newspapers, magazines and wire services, have had one thing in common: They have sometimes overlooked schools from California, especially those in the Southland.
The Crenshaw High boys’ basketball team, for example, did not receive any attention in the USA Today poll this season until it defeated Santa Ana Mater Dei in the Southern Regional Division I final March 13. The Cougars moved up to No. 6 after they defeated Carmichael Jesuit for the state championship March 20.
“We didn’t get any respect in the (national) polls all season, even though we had beaten some very good teams,” said Willie West, Crenshaw’s coach.
However, Southland teams fare better in baseball polls.
Last season, Diamond Bar was generally regarded as the top team in the nation until losing to Long Beach Millikan, 5-4, in the Southern Section Division 5-A championship.
Millikan and Simi Valley have received the most national attention among local teams this season. Simi Valley started the year ranked No. 2 by Baseball America Magazine and Millikan No. 15. Fresno Bullard was No. 18.
Although Millikan defeated Simi Valley, 3-0, in the final of the El Segundo tournament two weeks ago, most figure the Pioneers will prevail at the end of the season because of their depth.
Simi Valley, which has won five league titles during the past eight years, is coming off a disappointing season. The team won the Marmonte League title last year but was later stripped of it for using an ineligible player. It qualified for the playoffs but was eliminated by Millikan in the quarterfinals.
The Pioneers, coached by Mike Scyphers for the last 15 seasons, are especially deep at pitching. Seniors Bill Treadway and Trevor Leppard and junior Bill Scheffels are experienced starters. Scheffels was 2-1 last season before being declared ineligible after transferring from Mission Hills Alemany.
“There just won’t be enough innings to go around,” Scyphers said.
The leader is senior center fielder Kevin Nykoluk, Cal-Hi State sophomore and junior player of the year, who batted .422 with team-high totals of 10 home runs and 29 runs batted in.
Millikan is the two-time defending Southern Section 5-A champion, although the Rams have not won the competitive Moore League either year. Last season, Millikan finished third in the league and barely made the playoffs. The Rams return six key players from their championship team, including pitcher-third baseman Greg Negrete and utility man Jason Lucience, who batted .427 with 36 RBIs. Negrete was selected the MVP of the El Segundo tournament after winning two games and hitting .450.
League play started earlier this month and concludes in mid-May.
David Lamb has not hit .300 the last two seasons as a starter at Newbury Park, but the senior shortstop is regarded as the Southland’s top prospect this year.
Lamb went from a relative unknown to a top recruit last summer as a star on the Newbury Oaks American Legion team. He led his team to the legion national championship in August and was voted national player of the year. He batted .506 (43 for 85) in legion postseason play.
Last fall, Lamb signed with Pepperdine after canceling recruiting trips to North Carolina State and Texas A&M.; If his senior season is as productive as last summer, he should be a first-round selection in the June amateur draft.
Baseball America picked Lamb as the second-best high school shortstop prospect this season.
“He moves like a shortstop and he’s got a shortstop’s body,” said John Royster of Baseball America. “He covers enough ground to be a pro shortstop.”
Lamb, 6 feet 2, 165 pounds, hit .295 as a sophomore and .297 as a junior. He said he is out to prove last summer was no fluke.
“It’s a no-lose situation,” he said. “If I don’t do all that well, I’ll go to Pepperdine. I’m not going to press.”
The Upper Deck Classic, one of the most prestigious high school baseball tournaments in the country, begins Monday at six sites in Orange County.
The 16-team tournament, in its fourth year, will include six schools that have received national preseason rankings. The field is led by Miami Westminster Christian, considered by many as the county’s top team.
Local teams in the tournament include Simi Valley, Anaheim Esperanza, Placentia El Dorado, Santa Ana Mater Dei and Irvine.
Opening-round games will be played at El Dorado, Mater Dei, Esperanza and Irvine high schools as well as at Fullerton College and Cal State Fullerton. The tournament concludes next Thursday at Cal State Fullerton.
In the last three years, 37 players who appeared in the tournament have been drafted by major league teams.
Shortstop Alex Rodriguez of Miami Westminster Christian High is expected to be selected first in the June amateur draft. . . . Catcher Steve Hagins of Los Angeles University started the season with the highest high school rating (60 on a 20-80 scale) by the Major League Scouting Bureau. . . . San Pedro is a favorite to defend its City Division 4-A baseball title. The Pirates return pitcher Larry Cannon, who won the title game against Sun Valley Poly last year. . . . Irvine might be the most experienced local team after Simi Valley and Millikan. The Vaqueros, Southern Section 4-A runner-ups last season, return eight starters. Orange County’s preseason No. 1 team is led by pitcher Ryan O’Toole, 8-5 in 1992, who has been hampered by a torn hamstring this season.