West Los Angeles College baseball Coach Art Harris thinks his team will be a contender for the Mountain Valley Conference crown, but Santa Monica College Coach Marty Berson considers his team a long shot at best to win the Metropolitan Conference.
Harris: "We definitely see ourselves as competitive." Berson: "We'll probably be picked to finish fourth, but I'm not crying over it--this is the best team we've had in three years."
College of the Canyons, which has won the Mountain Valley title the last two years, should be strong again, said Harris, whose Oilers were runners-up last year. He said that Los Angeles Valley also will be hard to beat.
Harris said the Oilers, who finished pre-league play with a 7-3 record, will start experienced players at every position and that he has a strong bench.
.450 Hitter Slumps
He had expected sophomore right fielder Jim Vatcher to be leadoff hitter but said that he has dropped him to fifth because Vatcher has been in a batting slump. Last year Vatcher hit .450 in league and made the All-Mountain Valley first team, but this year he is batting only about .200.
Batting cleanup is sophomore left fielder Victor Hithe, another first-team all-leaguer, who hit .374 in conference play last season and is batting .294 this year.
Two returning starters who are hitting well are third baseman George Powell (.467) and first baseman De-Jon Watson (.472). Last year Powell hit .317 and batted in 24 runs and Watson hit .342 with 20 RBIs.
Harris said his infield is excellent defensively and is solid up the middle with sophomore David Johnson, who is batting .286, at second base and sophomore Tim Vaughn (.235) at shortstop.
Sophomores Dan Becerra (.222) and Greg Mollner (.200) alternate at catcher.
Draftee Hitting .229
In center field is sophomore Gayron Jackson (.229, 11 runs scored), who was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the second round of January's major league draft. Jackson redshirted last year after playing at El Camino College in 1983.
The designated hitter spot is shared by sophomore Jody Brehm and three freshmen from Santa Monica High: Mike Berens, Lorenzo Lesky and Tony Todd.
In the starting pitcher rotation are veteran right-handers Lee Carballo, Mike Reyna and Mike Aspray.
Carballo, who has a 3.65 earned-run average and threw 59 strikes out of 77 pitches in a recent game, is expected to be the ace of the staff. Last year Carballo had a 5-3 record, walked only eight in 74.3 innings, had a 4.6 ERA and received honorable mention for all-league.
This season Aspray has a 6.1 ERA, and Reyna, who played some at third base last year, has 6.75 ERA.
Freshman in Bullpen
Freshman left-hander Robin Torres (Culver City High) may be a starting pitcher, but Harris said he will throw long and short relief most of the time. Other relievers are veterans Mike Olivier and Kevin Dennis. The left-handed Dennis redshirted last year after playing for SMC in 1983.
SMC Coach Berson said his squad, 4-4 in pre-league play, doesn't have overall strength or reserves.
If this is Berson's best team in three years, it will be without its best pitcher, Robert Young, indefinitely. Sophomore Young was injured in a recent game and underwent knee surgery last week.
Now freshman Andrew Peruzzi (Venice High), a transfer from WLAC, heads the Corsairs pitching staff. Peruzzi has a 3.76 ERA.
The other starters are freshmen right-handers Jaime Ramirez (Venice High) and Jeff Allen (University High), who will also relieve. Berson said Ramirez (1.08 ERA) has a fine curve and that Allen (3.81 ERA) has shown stamina.
"I was counting on Young and Peruzzi, but Ramirez and Allen have been a real surprise," Berson said.
Praise for Lewis
Other relievers are freshmen Rendall Charles (Crenshaw High), the long man, and Robert Lewis (Santa Monica High), long and short. Berson said he gives Lewis "a lot of credit. I never thought he'd make the club, but he worked hard for it."
Berson will start sophomore Darron Payne at first base, Cliff Dawson at second, sophomore Mark Summers (who may also pitch relief) at shortstop and freshman Kirk Mears (Kennedy High), who has stolen six bases in as many attempts, at third.
Harrison Shearman, who is hitting .242 but finished at .355 last year, is in right and sophomore Tony Mulvihill, a .194 hitter last year but a .400 hitter now, is in center.
Left field and designated hitter will rotate among sophomore Craig Hackett and freshmen Leonard Alvalos (Nogales High) and Paul Saunders (Inglewood).
As the week started, the Corsairs had stolen 38 bases in 45 attempts. "That's our forte," Berson said. "We're going to run on other teams; we're going to make them throw us out."
Missed Fly Balls
Berson said that on defense "the team is having a breakdown. There were at least three games we would have won if only we'd caught a crucial fly ball."
He said that he expects his team to play at least .500 ball and that Harbor, defending conference and state champion, and Long Beach probably will dominate the league.
The Oilers will begin conference action at at 2 p.m. Tuesday at Los Angeles Valley. SMC opened Metro play against Long Beach this week, will play a non-conference game against Cal Poly Pomona's junior varsity at 2:30 p.m. Friday and return to league action against Pasadena at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday.