Venice High School will be going for its third City baseball championship in a row when league play starts this week. Coach Jeff Shimizu will once again field a strong team, bolstered by many of the starters who led the Gondoliers to a 26-6 record and an 8-5 win over Palisades at Dodger Stadium for the 3-A City Championship last year.
Returning are all-Western Leaguer Chico Garcia, a junior pitcher-right fielder; senior catcher Bob Tomaselli, a three-year letterman and all-league selection; senior pitchers Dwayne Lortie, Armando Gomez and Paul Nikcevic; senior first baseman John Barba and junior left fielder Ernie Soto.
These players should more than ease Shimizu's worry about replacing City 3-A player of the year Colin Franker. Franker hit .553 with 10 home runs and 57 runs batted in last year in leading Venice into the playoffs, where he clubbed three home runs. Franker is now doing his heavy hitting with the University of Hawaii.
Among Palisades Coach Jerry Marvin's players are four who, Marvin thinks, could play professional ball: senior catcher John Dolak, an all-City selection; senior first baseman Greg Shutz, pitcher-third baseman Erik Beckerman and junior shortstop Kenny Woods, who replaces last year's starter Leonard Matsumoto. Matsumoto, an all-City selection, and Kent Keye, a pitcher-right fielder and all-City choice, are attending West Los Angeles College.
A look at Westside City teams.
Venice will field much of the City championship team that finished 12-3 in the Western League but will miss Franker, shortstop Mike Sanders, a second team all-league selection who is attending Cal Lutheran College on a football scholarship, and second baseman John Higa, a second-team all-leaguer who is at La Verne College.
The Gondoliers started the season with an 8-2 record. "This year we have lots of pitching depth; we have six guys who can throw," Shimizu said, but he added that defense must improve if Venice is to repeat as league champion.
Shimizu said his team is capable of getting to the playoffs if it peaks at the right time.
The weather has prohibited the Dolphins from playing a full schedule, but the rain stopped long enough for Palisades to defeat Venice, 5-4, for the championship of the Westside Tournament.
That win also helped them shake the bridesmaid feeling they may have had. Palisades finished second to Venice in the Western League last year and second to the Gondoliers for the City title.
Coach Marvin counts on experience, solid defense and timely hitting, but he said it is pitching that will carry the team. Its fortunes could depend on pitcher Beckerman and Chris Forshner, a senior pitcher-right fielder.
The Western League is strong, according to Marvin, and he said his team could end up anywhere from the top to the bottom.
Hollywood finished last in the East Valley League with an 0-18 record and was 0-21-1 overall.
This season began as a repeat of last year: Hollywood lost its first three games. Coach Gordon Russell said his team has shown some hitting and pitching talent but has not been consistent.
Russell rates Poly, North Hollywood and Fairfax best in the league. He said his team should be improved over last year--and win some games.
Coach Frank Cruz's Warriors finished fifth in the Western League with a 4-11 record and were 9-15 overall. This year's team started the season with a 6-2 record and is playing "consistent baseball," Cruz said.
Some of the players responsible for that consistency are senior shortstop Ross Rosenfeld, a first-team all-leaguer; senior right fielder Jon Beckerman; Eric Friede, a junior third baseman and honorable-mention all-league selection, and pitcher Charlie German, a senior right-hander who threw a no-hitter against Crossroads this season. German heads what Cruz calls a good pitching rotation.
Cruz said pitching and defense are carrying the Warriors to victory and that with timely hitting University could make the playoffs.
He said Venice is once again the team to beat but that Westchester, Palisades and Crenshaw are strong. "The league's going to be competitive, and it's going to be a dogfight to the end," he said.
Hamilton has eight starters from last year's team that finished fourth in the Western League. Senior center fielder Darly Moss and senior shortstop Chris Martin, both considered professional prospects by Coach David Uyeshima, will try to lead the Yankees back to the playoffs and past the quarterfinals, where they lost to Los Angeles last year.
Uyeshima said the team is playing well on defense but that hitting and pitching must improve if the Yankees are to challenge for the league title. "It's going to be tough in league this year," Uyeshima said. "There's not going to be one team in league that's not going to win some games."