Richards Able to Finish After Troubled Start

To see Sean Richards charge out of the bullpen Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium to celebrate Chatsworth High's 2-1 victory over Roosevelt in the City Championship game offers a compelling lesson on the virtue of sacrifice and patience.

Richards, a senior pitcher who was warmed up and ready to provide relief if needed, thought about turning in his uniform more than once this season. Because he didn't, Chatsworth won the City Championship.

"It was a year of growing up and not giving up," he said.

A year ago, Richards had a 9-2 record as the No. 2 pitcher for Chatsworth's 25-2-1 team that was upset in the City quarterfinals.

He faced increased competition during summer and fall from sophomore Justin Cassel and freshman Jason Dominguez, and was dropped to the No. 4 pitcher when the season began in March.

"It was a good call on the coaches' part," Richards said. "It was frustrating because there was nobody I could be mad at except myself."

He didn't make his first start until March 24 against Grant. He got two starts in April, then went almost a month without pitching.

Teammates sensed he might be on the verge of quitting. So did the coaches.

"We had a talk a couple weeks ago because we thought we were losing him mentally," pitching coach Matt LaCour said. "We told him we were going to need him down the stretch."

Richards' biggest fear was that the team would make it to Dodger Stadium and he'd have nothing to do with getting them there.

After his talk with LaCour, he refocused his energy on being ready if the Chancellors needed him. And they did.

Cassel started to struggle, losing consecutive games. Richards was given a start on May 15 against Birmingham and responded with a seven-hitter in an 11-1 victory. Cassel underwent an appendectomy two days later, making Richards the choice to start against Narbonne in the City quarterfinals.

Last season, he lost to Kennedy in the quarterfinals. Again, a trip to Dodger Stadium was at stake, because if Chatsworth could win in the quarterfinals, All-City pitcher Joe Guntz would be available for the final two games.

Richards pitched perhaps his best game in high school, limiting Narbonne to four hits, striking out five and walking none in the Chancellors' 2-1 victory.

"It felt great," he said. "It felt real good to have the whole team behind me and know how proud they were."

Richards finished the season with a 6-0 record and 1.28 earned-run average.

"I know there are a lot of other schools I could have been a No. 1 pitcher," he said.

Richards didn't play in Tuesday's final, but his one appearance in the playoffs was vital to Chatsworth (31-2) winning the title.

"It says a lot about him and his makeup to stick it out," Coach Tom Meusborn said. "A lot of guys could have quit."

Said Richards: "I just tried to think eventually I'd get my chance to go out and prove myself."

In this era of players abandoning teams after being told they are nolonger starters, Richards showed that patience and sacrifice can be rewarded.

Final baseball observations:

Kudos to local scout Rick Magnante of the Oakland Athletics for drafting Cal State Northridge shortstop J.T. Stotts in the third round Tuesday. Stotts is going to make Magnante look like a genius.

Most underrated player: Second baseman Jamie Hesselgesser of Westlake. He committed one error and batted .395.

Most impressive juniors: 1. Pitcher Bobby Paschal, Chaminade; 2. Pitcher Joe Guntz, Chatsworth; 3. Designated hitter Ryan Braun, Granada Hills; 4. Pitcher Jake Coash, Canyon; 5. Pitcher Alex Merricks, Oxnard; 6. Pitcher Sean Clark, Chaminade; 7. Third baseman Cody Haerther, Chaminade; 8. Catcher Jose Carrillo, Birmingham; 9. Pitcher Eddie Baeza, Poly; 10. Third baseman Adam Geery, Kennedy; 11. First baseman Brian Trump, Montclair Prep; 12. Shortstop Jamie Mah, Sylmar; 13. Third baseman Tim Murphy, Burroughs; 14. Shortstop Blake Sharpe, Moorpark; 15. Pitcher Justin Segal, Calabasas; 16. Second baseman Chris Giordano, Hart; 17. Shortstop Robert Marcial, Cleveland.

Most impressive sophomores: 1. Shortstop Chris Valaika, Hart; 2. Outfielder Delmon Young, Camarillo; 3. Shortstop Chad Lundahl, Thousand Oaks; 4. Shortstop Josh Satin, Harvard-Westlake; 5. Second baseman Aaron McGuinness, Crescenta Valley; 6. Pitcher Junior Garcia, Birmingham; 7. Catcher DJ Lewis, North Hollywood; 8. Shortstop Keith Barratt, Crescenta Valley.

Most impressive freshmen: 1. Pitcher Jason Dominguez, Chatsworth; 2. Third baseman Matt Adiem, Valencia; 3. Outfielder Chad Boyd, El Camino Real; 4. Shortstop Matt Ware, Quartz Hill; 5. Outfielder Drew Saberhagen, Calabasas.

Top teams for 2002: 1. Chaminade, 2. Chatsworth, 3. Crescenta Valley, 4. Camarillo, 5. Hart, 6. Birmingham, 7. Calabasas, 8. Kennedy, 9. Westlake, 10. El Camino Real.

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Eric Sondheimer can be reached at eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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