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La Habra’s Ballard Is a Blue-Chipper

If Kyle Ballard were a stock, you would be well advised to buy, buy, buy.

So what if the La Habra High right-hander surrendered four earned runs--as many as he had given up in his previous 28 innings--Friday in a 4-2 loss to Buena Park.

Every blue chipper is going to dip at times. It’s the long-term picture that counts.

And Ballard’s future looks brighter than a sunrise.

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The senior is 21-3 in his four-year varsity career and has helped transform a program that averaged five or six victories a season into a county power.

The Highlanders have gone 65-25 since Ballard joined the team, winning two Freeway League titles and advancing to a Southern Section Division III semifinal last year. La Habra is ranked No. 10 in the latest Orange County Sportswriters’ Poll.

“That’s just a huge turnaround,” said La Habra Coach Mate Borgogno, who took over the program before Ballard’s freshman season. “I would say a large portion of it is attributable to him.”

Ballard doesn’t possess one of the liveliest arms in Orange County. His fastball is in the low- to mid-80 mph range, considerably slower than hurlers such as Brea Olinda’s Mike Davern. But Ballard’s hallmarks--consistency and control--are just as effective. He can throw a changeup or curve for a strike at any given time.

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“Those players [such as Davern] are big-time strikeout pitchers. They’re going to get all the publicity with the scouts and colleges,” Borgogno said. “But when you start comparing stats, Kyle’s right there with them, probably even better.”

This season, Ballard is 5-2 with 25 strikeouts and a 1.80 earned-run average in 35 innings. He’s allowing fewer than one hit per inning and has surrendered only eight walks. In his high school career, he has issued 39 walks in 150 1/3 innings.

“Control is pretty much everything because I don’t throw that hard, I don’t have that much velocity,” Ballard said. “I have to depend on my accuracy and control.”

Ballard, who last year was an All-Freeway League first-team and All-Southern Section second-team selection, has earned his success. Playing baseball year round and hustling at every opportunity, he’s “the hardest worker on the team,” Borgogno said. Ballard also plays third base and right field for La Habra.

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He bats third and has a .354 average, fourth-best on the team.

And still, with all those accolades, it looks as if he’s headed to a small college or a junior college. So far his most serious discussions have been with Chapman.

“I’d like to get [bigger] offers, definitely,” Ballard said, “but I’ll just take what I can get. If I work hard enough I will get what I deserve.

“For now I just want to go to a good school with a good baseball program that hopefully will pay for school. Once I get to college, I can look further down the road.”

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THE INSIDE SCOOP

The regular season has had no shortage of intriguing story lines as it nears the halfway point:

* Early surprise: La Quinta. The No. 3 Aztecs, who return no starters, refuse to lose. Coach Dave Demarest said the key to his team’s success will be how it responds to its first loss.

Well, La Quinta may not get a chance to respond. The Aztecs are 14-0 and could make it to the postseason undefeated.

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* Early disappointment: El Dorado. Third in the preseason rankings, the Golden Hawks (7-5) apparently retained less luster than expected from last year’s Division III championship team.

* Best league: Sunset. Fountain Valley, Esperanza and Los Alamitos top almost every coach’s most-feared list.

* Best league race: Empire. Four teams have a legitimate shot at the title.

* Best team you haven’t heard of: Valencia. The Tigers (8-3, 4-1) are alone atop the standings in the Orange League and show no sign of letting up.

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LOOKING AHEAD

All the talk in the preseason about the Empire League revolved around Cypress, Loara and El Dorado. Guess who’s on top of the league standings the first week in April?

That would be Kennedy (8-3-1, 4-0-1), the only team without a league loss.

The Fighting Irish have a chance to solidify their place atop the league standings when they face Loara (7-3-1, 3-1-1) at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Glover Stadium.

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In a battle for first place in the South Coast League, El Toro (7-4-1, 4-1) plays Trabuco Hills (8-4, 4-1) twice this week. The teams meet at 3:15 p.m. Wednesday at Trabuco Hills and at the same time Friday at El Toro.

Ninth-ranked Santa Margarita (7-4, 2-1) and Bellflower St. John Bosco (6-3, 2-1), tied atop the Serra League standings with No. 6 Mater Dei, meet at 3:15 Wednesday at Santa Margarita.

Also at 3:15 Wednesday, No. 4 Esperanza (10-2, 3-2) travels to Los Alamitos (7-5, 3-2), where it will attempt to atone for its loss to the Griffins in a Sunset League opener. The teams play again Friday at Esperanza.

Also on Friday, Capistrano Valley Christian (7-3, 2-0) plays at Downey Calvary Chapel (6-4, 2-0) in a matchup of the Academy League’s top teams.

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If you have an item or idea for the prep baseball report, you can fax us at (714) 966-5663 or e-mail us at ben.bolch@latimes.com


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