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Coaches Taking Precautions After Accident

In the wake of Sunday’s accident in which Julius Riofrir, a player on the Verdugo Hills legion team, was struck in the head and killed by a ball that ricocheted in a batting cage, area coaches are reexamining safety precautions used with their teams.

Bill Harrington, a Palmdale co-coach, and Scott Drootin, a West Hills assistant and Chaminade High’s coach, said they will require all players to wear helmets while in a batting cage.

“We definitely learned something from it,” Harrington said. “We have two batting cages [at Palmdale High] and there’s going to be a rule now that you wear a helmet when you’re in there. The kids think they’re invincible and don’t need basic protection but . . . .”

Drootin, who has coached at Kennedy, Calabasas and Chaminade, said he had never seen or heard of a player being struck in the head while pitching in a cage.

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“I’ve been in baseball more than 20 years and I’ve never seen anything like that,” Drootin said. “I’ve had balls hit behind me and bounce into me or hit the roof of the cage and bounce down but that’s it.”

Drootin said coaches must beware of players’ safety at all times.

“I think with more and more kids playing sports, there’s more possibility for freak things to happen,” he said. “Coaches had better start taking them more seriously, including myself.”

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When George Vranau and the North Hollywood High baseball team last made the news, it had just been upset in the first round of the City Section playoffs.

Despite winning its first conference title in more than 30 years, third-seeded North Hollywood (25-7) was unceremoniously dumped from the postseason almost before it began.

“It was hard to take and I got very little sleep the next couple of nights,” Vranau said. “But I think the seniors saw winning the [conference] title as the culmination of their season. They kind of settled for that.”

Not so next season, says Vranau, who these days is coaching a North Hollywood West team that was 11-3 and had won eight consecutive games at the start of the week.

The roster, loaded with North Hollywood High players with high school eligibility, includes just two graduates--Abe Montiel and Eric Eisner--and is essentially the 1998 Husky varsity.

“This will be the team we put on the field next year,” said Vranau, who lost two starters to graduation.

“And these guys are on a mission. Their motto is ‘No mistakes and we’re going to finish the job this time.’ ”

They’re doing it already, led by pitchers Jose Figueroa, Edgar Pineda and Brandon Murphy.

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As of Monday, the right-handed trio was a combined 9-1 with a 2.37 earned-run average in 59 innings.

“They’ve thrown strikes and we’ve played very, very good defense behind them,” said Vranau, whose team turned 18 double plays in its first 14 games.

Figueroa and Pineda played on the high school varsity last season and will be seniors, though they saw little time on the mound.

Murphy was a junior varsity player and will be a junior.

“They’ve certainly jelled quicker than what I’d expected,” Vranau said.

Proven players such as Ismael Rangsiyawong (.478, 20 runs batted in) and Jerrit Redlich (.425) have been joined by unexpected standouts Arnold Vasquez and Pablo Rojas, both seniors-to-be.

Vasquez, formerly a reserve first baseman, has become a starter and leads the team with a .486 average and has 17 RBIs.

Rojas started at catcher for the varsity last season but his turns at the plate were taken by a designated hitter. Now, he swings for himself and is batting .281 with 13 RBIs.

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“The players see Legion as the opportunity to establish themselves as starters for next year,” Vranau said. “Some of the seniors we had were not self-starters, they needed to be pushed. [The seniors-to-be] don’t need to be pushed, they just need to be let loose.”

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Studio City South started the week last in the District 20 Southern Division with a 3-10 record. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Studio City South is made up mostly of players from Campbell Hall High. Three years ago, the Vikings won one game all season.

But since Joe Sciuto, a former boys’ basketball assistant at Campbell Hall, took over the program after the one-victory season, the Vikings have made steady progress, highlighted by the school’s first playoff appearance this year.

In past summers, many Campbell Hall players played on a Colt League team, but this season Sciuto decided to make the jump to American Legion and District 20’s newest team was born.

Comprised of players from Campbell Hall, Viewpoint, Buckley and Faith Baptist, Studio City South has been competitive from the first game, a one-run loss to Woodland Hills East, which is second in the Western Division.

“We had kind of outgrown the Colt League,” Sciuto said. “We’re kind of a small-school all-star team.”

Staff writer Michael Lazarus contributed to this notebook.


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