* Capistrano Valley Christian: 10-12, 7-3 in 1997. Coach: Terry Gaunt (fifth year, 24-54). Prospects: Capistrano Valley Christian's third-place finish in the Academy League rewarded the Eagles with their second playoff berth. And Guant has seven returning starters to keep the good times rolling. Shortstop/pitcher Thomas Grove (.362, 15 RBIs, 4-1, 1.58) and third baseman/pitcher Dustin Smith (.344, 12 RBIs) were all-league selections, and catcher Corey Wright, a defensive specialist, made second team. Add promising pitcher Caleb Lund (2-0, 0.00) to the mix, along with top newcomers Josh Emery and Tyler Rholeder, and Capistrano Valley Christian has the look of a winner.
* Fairmont: 2-10, 1-9 in 1997. Coach: Mark Alves (second year, 2-10). Prospects: Fairmont has always been more interested in SATs than ERAs. In fact, this is only the third year the Huskies have fielded a team. So Alves has the time and backing to construct the program. He has only two returning starters--second baseman Amir Wahab (.295) and outfielder/pitcher Usman Ahmed. But Alves gets some reinforcements in Mike Derichweiler and John Del Favero, both of whom transferred from Huntington Beach Claremont (which has closed).
* Heritage Christian: 16-14, 10-0 in 1997. Coach: Jon Caffrey (first year, 0-0). Prospects: After watching his father Tom Caffrey win two consecutive Express League titles, Caffrey takes the reins. The good news for Caffrey? With six returning starters, he does not have to start from scratch. His younger brother, shortstop/pitcher (and two-time league MVP) Paul Caffrey (.588, three home runs, 39 RBIs) is one of the county's best players. Not far behind are infielder/pitcher Chris Myrtle (9-2, 2.18 ERA, .543 average, one home run, 34 RBIs) and third baseman Joel Marlowe (.515, 28 RBIs). The Patriots have to feel confident about winning a third consecutive Express League title.
* Liberty Christian: 10-12, 3-7 in 1997. Coach: Raymond Clifton (14th year, 177-97). Prospects: A fourth-place finisher in the Academy League last year, the Minutemen have moved to the Express League. And their opponents will discover Liberty Christian brings legitimate credentials despite a so-so 1997. Clifton had to play more freshmen and sophomores than he planned last season, but the on-the-field experience was valuable for the five returning starters, including shortstop/pitcher C.J. Leeman (2-1, 2.44, 35 strikeouts), outfielder Frank Hill (.353) and infielder Alex Sanchez (.333, 10 RBIs).
* St. Michael's Prep: 5-9, 2-8 in 1997. Coach: Stephen Boyle (second year, 5-9). Prospects: St. Michael's is in the same boat with Fairmont--an infant program from a small school where the emphasis in on academics rather than athletics. But the Pioneers, who finished fifth in the Academy League, are a half-step ahead of the Huskies because they have more players. Among the best are pitcher Fred Enciso, catcher Jimmy Munozcano and first baseman J.R. Trebels.
* Southern California Christian: 11-10, 6-4 in 1997. Coach: Andy Newman (first year, 0-0). Prospects: The Flames muddled through their Arrowhead League season, then got hot in the playoffs and reached the Division V semifinals. That will raise expectations for 1998. Fortunately for Newman, he does not go on the field empty-handed. On the mound and behind the plate is all-league pitcher/catcher Chad White (3-4, 3.92, 49 strikeouts, .415, 26 RBIs). Other returning starters include outfielder Jerome Metz (.400, 24 RBIs) and first baseman Corey Meyer (.300, 16 RBIs). Southern California Christian won't have the surprise factor this time, and Newman is predicting another third-place finish.