* Capistrano Valley: 13-13-1, 8-6-1 in 1997. Coach: Bob Zamora (21st year, 338-174-3). Prospects: The Cougars have the runners-up blues. They have finished second in league to Mater Dei five consecutive years, and this season Capistrano Valley could drop further depending on whether Dana Hills or Mission Viejo makes a move. There's a huge hole to fill in the pitching rotation now that Rik Currier has moved on to USC. Curt Rodriguez (5-2, 2.17) will get his chance to be the staff ace.
* Dana Hills: 6-18-1, 2-12-1 in 1997. Coach: Bob Canary (17th year, 186-203-8). Prospects: Playing mainly juniors and sophomores, Canary expected to have a rugged 1997 season and got it. This year, Canary expects the Dolphins to make a playoff run. He believes the pitching staff, coached by former Angel star Mike Witt and led by Sean Fluent (5-5, 4.01), has at least four dependable hurlers. The biggest question looming is how--and how much--Dana Hills can score. Outfielder Chris Weber (.378, 13 steals) must get the offense going, and utility player Justin Moschina (five home runs, 19 RBIs) has some power.
* Mater Dei: 24-4, 15-0 in 1997. Coach: Bob Ickes (24th year, 408-170-9). Prospects: Six years and counting. That's the consecutive number of league titles won by the Monarchs. Number seven is not a lock, but it's certainly a strong possibility. Even with only five returning starters, Mater Dei has some sock with first-team all-league catcher Brett Kay (.457, eight home runs, 25 RBIs) and shortstop Pat Manning (.398, nine home runs, 27 RBI). The pitching is unsettled; all-time leading winner Mike Kolbach is now at Texas, but Ickes believes that Nick Lovato (8-0, 2.10) can ably step into the No. 1 role.
* Mission Viejo: 12-13, 7-8 in 1997. Coach: Chris Ashbach (first year, 0-0). Prospects: Ashbach and assistant coach Mike Boucher, fresh off their summer stint playing with the Vigilantes, inherit a team that underachieved last season. Injuries and so-so pitching kept the Diablos out of the playoffs. Again, Mission Viejo should push Mater Dei, Dana Hills and Capistrano Valley for one of the leagues automatic playoff bids. Among the five returning starters, all-league first-team shortstop Chris Willmer (.380, seven home runs, 28 RBIs) and second-team outfielder Scott Carr (.350, 24 RBIs) are solid at the plate. Pitchers John Huggins (4-3) and Dan Kessell (5-5) show potential.
* San Clemente: 14-13, 8-7 in 1997. Coach: David Gellatly (fourth year, 35-41-2). Prospects: Gellatly would like to move the calendar ahead one year. He lost 10 seniors, including four pitchers, to graduation and San Clemente will need that much time to mature. The Tritons do have a dependable battery in pitcher/first baseman Jeff Goodman (0-3 3.47 ERA, 36 strikeouts in 34 1/3 innings) and second team all-league catcher Ben Adair (.347, five home runs, 20 RBIs). Catcher/third baseman Adam Little, who hit six homers with his junior varsity team last year at Cherry Creek (Colo.), will get a chance to play.
* Trabuco Hills: 9-15, 4-11 in 1997. Coach: Randy Brouwer (seventh year, 76-66-2). Prospects: On paper it figures to be another season of growing pains for the Mustangs. Brouwer has only three returning starters, one of them all-league shortstop Adam Anderson (.394, nine RBIs, nine steals). Pitcher Todd Gelatka, who threw the first no-hitter in school history but also finished the season 3-7, 4.70 with 56 strikeouts, will compete with Eric Bowden (4-3, 3.30, 46 strikeouts) for the top starter spot. The Mustangs do have better depth this season, including what Brouwer calls "my deepest pitching staff." In a league as traditionally tough as this one, however, Trabuco Hills figures to be outmanned.