First-year Edgewood High School baseball Coach Rick Candaele doesn't have to coax his players to take a extra batting or fielding practice.
They would practice all day if he let them.
"These kids just love baseball," Candaele said. "They want to play all the time. They don't mind hard work. Before the season the kids all came over to tell me they wanted long practices. They actually seem to enjoy practice. That's a little unusual."
Candaele, who coached at Lompoc for four years before moving to Edgewood, credited love of the game as a reason the Trojans have jumped to a 15-1 record, top mark in the San Gabriel Valley and one of the best in Southern California. Edgewood is ranked No. 2 behind Gahr in the CIF 3-A Division.
Hard work aside, there are other factors for the success.
"We have team speed, we've gotten very good pitching and our defense is outstanding," Candaele said. "Our hitting has fluctuated, but the other stuff has kept us in most games."
Consistent or not, Edgewood may be the best hitting team in the valley. How many other teams have six starters batting better than .400 and 11 of their 13 players hitting more than .300? Edgewood does not have a player batting under .290.
The leaders are right fielder Steve Morris, who is hitting .547, and left fielder John Davis, at .541. The other .400-plus hitters are second baseman Eric Figueroa (.446), catcher Tom Henderson (.441 with 22 runs batted in), infielder Dan Kemble (.411) and shortstop Albert Salgado (.409). Catcher Jim Carreon is batting .369 and pitcher Larry Gonzales .340.
As unusual as it sounds, Candaele says that hitting is not the team's strongest point.
Without a doubt, he said, it is team speed. The Trojans have stolen 48 bases and are not afraid to take an extra base on a slowly fielded ball.
"I think that our team speed is the one ingredient that has put us where we are today," Candaele said. "We have a two-base philosophy: We try to take the extra base every time we can. We also get thrown out a lot but that's the way we play."
The stolen base leaders are Morris with 13 and Figueroa and reserve outfielder Guillermo Canjura with 11.
Candaele said the speed is particularly noticeable on defense. "That's where it really helps us. You really have to hit one or they'll run it down."
However, the outfield has not had to flag down many long flies this season because of Edgewood's outstanding pitching.
The leader is 6-3, 205-pound senior Larry Gonzales, a right-hander who has a 7-0 record, seven complete games and a 0.91 earned-run average. Gonzales, who started at quarterback for the football team, throws an 85-m.p.h fastball and has 50 strikeouts in 44 innings.
That is why Gonzales has been scouted by many major league teams: St. Louis, Kansas City, Detroit, California and the Chicago Cubs. "Larry's been our stopper, but all of our pitchers have come along well," Candaele said.
Two other pitchers who have done well are Figueroa, who has a 4-0 record, and Salgado, 3-1.
Gonzales, Figueroa and Salgado are among a group of Trojans who played on the West Covina youth team that won the Pony League World Series in 1981 and 1982. The others are Henderson, Davis and Eric Schumaker.
"There are a lot of talented players here and that is both good and bad," Candaele said. "It can create a lot of pressure on them because of the inflated expectations. But I like to think of it as a positive thing."
Candaele hopes it is enough talent to carry the Trojans to the CIF 3-A title. Edgewood won 3-A titles in 1976 and 1977 and has been a perennial postseason participant in recent years.
But for now, Candaele said he will settle for the top spot in the strong Valle Vista League, one of the strongest in the valley. Edgewood was 7-0 in league play heading into this week's games.
"Our goal is to win the league," he said. "We don't think you can look past this league because it's so competitive. After that, we'll just see what happens."