The Golden League's preseason baseball favorite, Quartz Hill High, has been as good as advertised. In more ways than one.
Hanging on the school's outfield fence are small, colorful business billboards, similar to ones fans might see at a minor league ballpark.
Coach Mike Nielson said he put up the billboards to help create more perspective for his players, who had depth-perception problems while looking through the outfield's cyclone fencing.
"There's nothing beyond that but the desert," Nielson said. "You can see right through the fence. Hopefully, we'll put up a wind screen next year."
The billboards might generate the funding. And the sponsors definitely have a familiar ring. The relatives of catcher Chris Grado, infielder Brian Willey, outfielder Brian Zemke and first baseman Mike Caudillo anted up for the advertisements.
How has Antelope Valley managed to right the ship in league play after an 0-6 start? The simplest answer: Eric Cole.
Cole, a senior third baseman, has been playing at another level.
"It's not like they're not trying to pitch around him," Coach Ed t'Sas said.
Cole's numbers through 12 league games border on the stratospheric: 23 for 44 (.523) with seven doubles, two triples, seven homers, 27 runs batted in and two stolen bases. He scored 19 runs, walked three times and struck out five times in that stretch. . . .
Highland right-hander Jeremy Casteel (6-2, 200) was promoted from the junior varsity last week and essentially thrown to the wolves in his first start. The freshman responded with a 4-2 victory over second-place Palmdale, which entered the game ranked No. 7 in Southern Section Division III.
"He exceeded our every expectation," Coach Mike Van Cheri said.
Casteel allowed one earned run and nine hits in the eight-inning victory, struck out four and walked three. In both the seventh and eighth innings, he recorded the third out with a bases-loaded strikeout.
Highland pitcher-first baseman Jim Reel had a memorable streak snapped in last Friday's victory over Palmdale, but you won't hear him complaining about it.
The senior recorded an extra-base hit in his previous six games before going three for four (all singles) against Palmdale. Over the past seven games, dating to a spring tournament victory over Servite, Reel is 13 for 25 with 19 RBIs. He has driven in at least one run in each of the seven games.
In the past four games, Reel has driven in 16 runs. Overall, he is 25 for 55 (.425) with a league-high 33 RBIs. . . .
Palmdale started the season with the best pitching staff in the league, but won't finish that way.
Senior Joe Garcia, the team's most-experienced starter who suffered a torn ankle tendon and has been sidelined for three weeks, probably is lost for the season. Garcia is 3-2 with one save and an earned-run average of 2.21.
"I might as well say it--he's probably through for the year," Coach Kent Bothwell said.
So is junior Brian Welsh, who was 3-0 with an ERA of 2.07. Welsh was declared academically ineligible last week when his grade-point average fell below the required 2.0. Outfielder Bob Harmon, formerly used in relief, and left-hander Dave Glick will try to fill the pitching void.
VALLEY PAC-8 CONFERENCE
So what if Canoga Park is in last place in the Mid-Valley League? There is a silver lining. The Hunters (6-12) have won more games this season than in the past three years combined. Canoga Park was 4-52 in the 1990s before this season. . . .
How much better is Monroe than its Mid-Valley League opponents? Eleven games into league play last week, the Vikings clinched at least a share of the league title with six games left to play. Two days later, they clinched it outright. . . .
* Who's hot: Sylmar's Shane Rankin is batting .700 in the past six games (14 of 20). Teammates Anthony Martinez and Oscar Mendoza each has hit safely in 20 of 22 games this season. Martinez, the Spartans' leadoff batter, has walked only three times in 84 plate appearances.
Poly's Danny Martinez, the leadoff batter, is hitting .556 (10 of 18) with runners in scoring position and leads the team with 35 total bases. Junior catcher Luciano Cuevas has made only one error. . . .
Monroe senior right-hander Jorge Dorado (6-0) is 20-2 in three varsity seasons.
At 5-foot-8, 170 pounds, Ron Botley of Poly may be better proportioned for football than volleyball, and indeed, the senior rushed for more than 1,800 yards and scored 24 touchdowns over the past two seasons. But Botley has proved equally adept on the volleyball court. He was an All-City Section 3-A Division selection last season--only his second year playing volleyball--and led the Parrots to the City semifinals.
"He's got just a pure vertical leap," said Coach John Ford, who measured it at 37 1/2 inches.
Valley Alternative, a school with 150 high school students, won the Magnet League tournament by defeating Downtown Business in four games last week. It was the first league championship for a boys' team at the school in the three years it has competed in interscholastic sports.
Coach Mike Soto attributed the turnaround to the team's participation in a summer league last year, during which his players competed against bigger and better teams from the Southern Section 3-A and 4-A levels.
The group lost all 44 matches.
"We got smashed," Soto said. "But I told them, 'This is how you get better.' "
Soto was correct. The team finished 9-2, 6-2 in league play, a turnaround from last year's 3-9, 2-7 mark.
"It was almost a 180 turnaround," Soto said. "A little school can be good. They just have to work real hard at it."
Crescenta Valley Coach Tony Zarrillo just didn't like the looks of Garrett Lee's first at-bat last week against Pasadena. When Lee, the designated hitter that day, was due up again with the bases loaded in the third inning, Zarrillo lifted Lee in favor of freshman Jesse Mitchell.
Mitchell hit a grand slam.
Glendale's John Lister is 23 for 24 on stolen-base attempts this season.
Crespi right-hander Jeff Suppan has thrown four consecutive shutouts, two shy of the Southern Section record set by former Baltimore Oriole Scott McGregor at El Segundo in 1972. McGregor, who was 138-108 in 13 major league seasons, also holds the record with nine shutouts in a season. Suppan has thrown five shutouts this year.
Notre Dame left-hander Chris Garza said he is available out of the bullpen this week. Garza, the Knights' No. 1 starter, has not pitched since April 7 because of soreness in his shoulder. Garza said hopes to make at least one start before the playoffs.
Crespi's Keith Evans has nine hits in his past 12 at-bats. . . . Casey Snow had two triples in the Celts' 16-3 victory over Harvard-Westlake on Saturday.
Alemany's Chris Tashima was six for seven with two home runs last week. In his past five games, he has six home runs.
Harvard-Westlake's Kevin O'Malley returned as a pinch-hitter Monday against Crossroads. O'Malley, son of Dodger owner Peter O'Malley, missed five games after he was spiked in the heel on April 13, opening a gash that required 20 stitches. . . .
In 1992, Chaminade leadoff batter Justin Giovannettone was hit a team-high 13 times by pitches. His brother, Jason, a freshman who bats leadoff this season, has been hit a team-high nine times.
Chaminade center fielder Casey Cote was seven for eight with two home runs and eight RBIs in a doubleheader sweep of Faith Baptist on Saturday. Before Wednesday's game against Crespi, which the Eagles lost, 11-0, Cote was hitting .370.
Montclair Prep's Brad Fullmer hit two more home runs Tuesday against Faith Baptist, raising his season total to 13, which moves him into a tie for eighth place on the Southern Section single-season list. Arnold Garcia of Channel Islands holds the record with 16 homers in 1981.
The Southern Section records of three former area baseball standouts were erased last week, by Daryl Ward of Riverside Bethel Christian. Ward, Small Schools Division player of the year in 1992, broke three section records in a 30-20 rout of Apple Valley Christian.
Ward, a senior who hit a three-run homer and a grand slam in the slugfest, ran his career totals to 34 homers, 156 RBIs and 146 runs scored.
The previous records and their former holders: 32 homers (Scott Sharts of Simi Valley, 1986-88), 153 RBIs (Jakob Jensen of Highland Hall, 1988-91) and 142 runs (Torey Lovullo of Montclair Prep, 1980-83).
Kennedy Cosgrove and staff writers Steve Elling, Jeff Fletcher and Paige A. Leech contributed to this notebook.