Like a mother who won't choose a favorite from among a family of healthy children, City Section baseball coaches can't decide who is going to advance to the finals in two weeks at Dodger Stadium.
Valley teams are seeded 1-2-3 in the playoffs, which begin Friday, but coaches agree that nearly any of the 16 teams could make the final.
No. 1-seeded Granada Hills dropped four of its last six Mid-Valley League games and tied San Fernando for the league title. The Highlanders are top-seeded primarily because Coach Darryl Stroh has led them to five City championships in 17 seasons.
Stroh's teams seem to thrive on playoff pressure. And this year's group is experienced. Greg Fowble (.400 average), Danny Takahashi (.369) and Bob Allen (.505) were members of Granada Hills' 1984 City championship team, and seven of the nine starters are seniors. Sean Casey, who is batting .468 and has a 7-4 pitching record, is another established Highlander star.
"The experience helps this time of year but you still have to go out every day and pitch, hit and field," Stroh said.
Second-seeded Grant, the East Valley League champion, is counting on its strength up the middle to compensate for a lack of experience and depth. Pitcher-shortstop Rodney Beck, catcher Sean Pettway (.453) and center fielder Jason Peterson (.404) are returning all-leaguers.
"We have exceptional players at the right positions," Grant Coach Tom Lucero said. "And we've cut our errors down to basically none."
No. 3-seeded Chatsworth, the West Valley League champion, lacks a pitcher as stout as Beck and a lineup as experienced as Granada Hills.
But attending a Chatsworth game is like going to a rock concert--a lot of heavy metal and fast-moving feet. Seven starters batted better than .320. Five starters stole 10 or more bases.
"We don't sacrifice bunt with a runner on first," Chatsworth Coach Bob Lofrano said. "We steal second and sometimes third."
Second- and third-place finishers San Fernando, Polytechnic, North Hollywood, Canoga Park, El Camino Real and Birmingham all have solid shots at advancing beyond the first round, coaches said.
Fourth but not Forgotten: Kennedy, the defending City champion, won its last six Mid-Valley games to sneak into the playoffs. On Friday, the Golden Cougars visit Banning, which won the Marine League.
Despite the mediocre regular season, Cleveland Coach Marty Siegel likes Kennedy's playoff chances. "I don't want to put a hex on them," Siegel said, "but I think they are peaking at the right time."
Reseda, which finished fourth in the West Valley League, also has its supporters, not the least of whom is Regent Coach Mike Stone. Reseda faces Grant, with Beck on the mound, in the first round.
"Beck is not a mystery," Stone said. "A lot of my kids have faced him growing up and in winter ball. We built some character by winning some games in the seventh inning this year."
Sophomore Steve Brody (5-2) probably will start against Grant, Stone said.
'Land Lubber: Bob LaRosa, a senior at Cleveland, made his last game memorable by pitching a complete-game victory over Chatsworth and hitting a home run in his final at-bat.
'Land on the Horizon: Siegel, whose Cleveland team was 5-10 in the West Valley League, on the outlook for next season: "The good news is we've got 10 players returning. The bad news is we've got 10 players returning."
Go West, Young Man: Because of a lack of pitching, teams from the West Valley League are not expected to do well in the playoffs. But several coaches said the league will be reckoned with in coming years.
"Nearly every team is young, especially Canoga Park," Reseda's Stone said. "Their catcher is exceptional and they have two strong pitchers."
Canoga Park's top pitchers, Mike Kerber and Adam Schulhofer, both are sophomores. Catcher Mike Urman, the West Valley League most valuable player, is a junior.
Six underclassmen made the West Valley all-league team and seven more made second team. Last season, the first team was all seniors.
Trahan Keeps Rolling On: In nine years as boys tennis coach at Calabasas, Joe Trahan has been to the Southern Section final eight times. Calabasas (18-4) plays for its fourth straight 3-A title today at 2 p.m. against Dana Hills at the Calabasas Tennis Club.
"Dana Hills' strong point is doubles," Trahan said. "But we have the two outstanding singles players. Let them try to beat us in singles."
Steve Wiere and Steve Oliver, both seniors, are the team's top singles players. The pair won a Southern Section doubles title as sophomores and are ranked third and fifth, respectively, in the state among players 18 and under by the Southern California Tennis Assn.