Not since the days of Randy Wolf and Ryan McGuire has an El Camino Real High baseball player entered his sophomore season with higher expectations than third baseman Conor Jackson.
All Coach Mike Maio did from the opening game was make Jackson the team's cleanup hitter even though Jackson had no varsity experience.
"At the beginning of the season, I kind of thought, 'Why should he hit there? He's so young,' " said Woody Cliffords, El Camino Real's All-City outfielder. "But he's come through."
Jackson, 6 feet 2 and 165 pounds, is a major reason El Camino Real (18-9) will play Chatsworth (29-3) for the City Section 4-A Division championship Thursday night at Dodger Stadium.
He has responded to the pressure of playoff competition by collecting eight hits in 13 at-bats with 10 runs batted in. His batting average has climbed to .409 with a team-leading 37 runs batted in. He has at least one hit in 23 of El Camino Real's 27 games.
"I have a great team behind me," Jackson said.
Jackson's playoff performance is stirring memories of another sophomore third baseman, Kevin Farlow, who led Kennedy to the City 4-A championship in 1985 by hitting a game-winning home run in the bottom of the seventh to beat Banning, 10-9, at Dodger Stadium. Farlow was selected the City 4-A player of the year, the only sophomore to achieve the honor.
El Camino Real hasn't lost to any team other than Chatsworth since April 6. The Conquistadores are 0-3 against Chatsworth, but Cliffords said he and his teammates won't be satisfied with just reaching Dodger Stadium.
"It's not good enough to just go there," he said. "We want to win."
Chatsworth has its own two sophomore standouts in first baseman Matt Cassel and shortstop Matt Fisher.
Cassel is batting .427 with seven home runs and 42 RBIs. Fisher is hitting .463 with five home runs and 45 RBIs.
Neither figures to be intimidated playing at Dodger Stadium. As Northridge Little Leaguers in 1994, they played in front of more than 35,000 and a national television audience at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
Jason and Jeff Spector, two top junior infielders at Taft, have applied to attend Chatsworth next fall under open enrollment. They were among 100 students who won a lottery to gain entrance to Chatsworth earlier this week.
The brothers, however, applied to attend El Camino Real last year under open enrollment but decided to stay at Taft. They won't have to decide until the fall whether to enroll at Chatsworth.
Saturday was prom night for Chatsworth and El Camino Real and Sara Gudis, Chatsworth's senior scorekeeper, asked Cassel to be her date.
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El Camino Real vs. Chtsworth
Thursday, 7:30 p.m.