Barton Keeps Earning His Keep at Marina

Times Staff Writer

Before the game-winning home run ball had stopped rolling around the industrial complex beyond the right-field fence at Huntington Beach Marina, Daric Barton's bat had been replaced with an aluminum rake.

Barton, a senior third baseman, was working his way up the third base line Friday, smoothing away shoeprints while many in the home crowd were still cheering the 4-3 comeback victory over Santa Ana Mater Dei in a Southern Section Division I quarterfinal playoff game.

Barton has been trying to prove himself as a player and a teammate ever since he transferred from Huntington Beach Ocean View after his sophomore year, when he said he was kicked off the team midway through the season for being "uncoachable."

Barton has worked hard to change that reputation at Marina, where he's counted on to do the right thing at the right time, whether it's hitting a ball into the next area code or reshaping some infield dirt.

"The biggest thing is he realized that he was a lot of the problem," Marina Coach Paul Renfro said. "That made it easier to get along with me, the coaches and the other kids."

He has signed with Cal State Fullerton -- as a left-handed-hitting catcher -- but is eagerly awaiting Tuesday's amateur draft. The best projections have him being selected within the first three rounds.

His line-drive homer leading off the eighth against Mater Dei wasn't one of his longest hits, but it was the biggest of his high school career.

The victory propelled the Vikings to the semifinals for the first time since 1990, when they beat the Monarchs in the quarterfinals.

In the Division I semifinal doubleheader Tuesday at Blair Field in Long Beach, Marina (22-7) plays Riverside Arlington (24-5) at 7 p.m., preceded by the game between Santa Margarita (19-7) and Moreno Valley Valley View (22-7) at 4 p.m.

"We played hard and fought back," Barton said of Friday's victory. "It feels good to beat Mater Dei."

The home run was his 11th this season, to go along with a .356 average, seven doubles and 29 runs batted in. He also showed his ability to hit the other way with a run-scoring double to left field in the first inning.

"I'm not any kind of particular hitter," he said. "I swing at strikes. In the [eighth inning against Mater Dei] I was just waiting for the fastball."

Barton has played out of position most of his high school career. This season, he moved from first base to third in an effort to bolster Marina's defense. Other than the second half of doubleheaders or an occasional bullpen session, Barton does not catch for the Vikings.

"I told the scouts, 'I'm here to coach high school kids," said Renfro, in his 20th season at Marina. " 'You know his talent and have seen him catch. I don't need to put him at catcher to help you make a decision.' "


Lakewood's ouster from the playoffs last week has left several coaches asking the same question: What exactly constitutes "pepper"?

The traditional warmup game of soft hitting and light overhand throws has been targeted by the Southern Section as an illegal form of pregame batting practice, as Lakewood well knows.

The Lancers were dismissed from the playoffs after the section office upheld a protest by Valley View that Lakewood took a form of pregame batting practice, which is against section rules when it comes to playoff games.

Some coaches are not happy to see pepper being singled out.

"It's horrible," Mission Viejo Coach Chris Ashbach said. "Pepper is not batting practice. It's getting your back loose and getting ready to go out there. If guys are 10 feet away and tossing and hitting a Wiffle ball, it shouldn't be a problem."

It nearly was for Ashbach's team.

Long Beach Wilson coaches told him before their first-round playoff game May 23 that two Diablo players were illegally playing pepper with a Wiffle ball.

Ashbach and the Wilson coaches worked out a deal: He would sit the players involved in the pepper game -- Clark Hardman, who hits No. 2 in the lineup, and Chris Jones, who hits No. 5 -- if Wilson promised not to file a protest.

Wilson's coaches agreed and Mission Viejo won, 5-0.

"I'm glad I sat those guys because I would have been in trouble," Ashbach said. "The rule is too tight."

But some coaches bend the rules of pepper, turning it into a form of batting practice.

Valley View Coach Matt Davis said Lakewood players were standing 30 to 40 feet apart and taking full swings instead of the typical compact, choppy swings associated with the pregame ritual.

"They must have hit three balls over 200 feet," Davis said. "I played in the San Francisco Giants' organization for eight years and I've never seen a ball go over 200 feet while playing pepper."


After Valley View's 3-1 victory over Anaheim Servite on Friday, Davis shook hands on the field, then turned to one parent and said, "We wouldn't be here without you."

It was one of several parents who arrived early at Lakewood on Tuesday and videotaped the Lancers playing "pepper" in the outfield.

Said Davis afterward: "Wednesday was my [36th] birthday. This has been the single weirdest week of my entire life. I would've liked to have won [the Lakewood game, won by the Lancers, 4-3]."

Valley View third baseman Kevin Malcolm said it's time to forget about the incident.

"To get a second chance like that, you got to take care of business," he said.

"Hopefully, we've got it all way behind us now."

Pitcher Steven Wright, who improved to 10-0 on Friday and helped his own cause with a two-run home run in the first inning, said he felt no remorse for what happened to Lakewood.

"I don't want to win like that, but rules are rules," he said. "That why they have them."


Well, it didn't take long.

Arlington and Santa Margarita, participants in last year's Division III championship, were moved up to Division I this season, but that hasn't hampered their playoff success.

Each advanced to the semifinals with convincing victories Friday. Santa Margarita ripped Mission Viejo Capistrano Valley, 11-5, and Arlington stifled Mission Viejo, 4-1.

Arlington, a 1-0 winner over Santa Margarita in last season's title game, has been here before.

The Lions won the Division I championship in 1999 but were dropped to Division III after the section changed the playoff format to arrange teams in divisions by enrollment instead of league status.

"We were a little disappointed when they went to enrollment, but we said, 'Let's just try to keep playing at the Division I-type of level,' " Arlington Coach Gary Rungo said.

This year, the section dropped its enrollment-based playoff structure, returning Arlington and Santa Margarita to Division I because of league strength.

Staff writers Mike Bresnahan and Paul McLeod contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World