Nobody in the Times Southern Section baseball Top 10 poll is in the class of last year's Simi Valley team, which was ranked No. 1 in the nation for most of the season.
Despite the lack of a dominant team, the 1987 baseball season is not lacking in depth. There are more than 20 teams that rate serious consideration for a Top 10 ranking.
Although there is no dominant team, there is a dominant pitcher in the area. Mike McNary, who was All-Southern Section last year as a junior, is what sets Lakewood above the rest. McNary is the main reason the Lancers occupy the top spot.
Lakewood is one of two teams from the Moore League (Long Beach Millikan is the other) in the Top 10. The Del Rey League also has two teams, Bellflower St. John Bosco and Mission Hills Alemany.
The poll also has some notable exclusions in two-time defending 3-A champion Oxnard Rio Mesa, defending 4-A champion Anaheim Esperanza and Simi Valley.
Here is the Times Top 10 with their leagues in parentheses:
1. Lakewood (Moore)--The Lancers return only four starters, but one of the returnees is All-Southern Section pitcher McNary. McNary, a 5-8 right-hander, may be lacking in height but not in stature. As a junior, McNary was 13-2 with an 0.93 earned-run average and 139 strikeouts in 90 innings. The second starter is junior Rick Molnar, the top pitcher from last year's 19-1 junior varsity team. Troy Abato will be first out of the bullpen and a spot starter. "I'm real excited about our pitching," Lancer Coach Walter O'Neil said. Hitting, though, is another matter. Lakewood has to replace five starters, including the entire outfield off a 21-4 team. Runs may be at a premium, but the Lancers hope to manufacture them. "One of the things that is going to help us is our team speed," O'Neil said. "I've got four or five guys who could be leadoff hitters." If Lakewood can get any hitting to go with its pitching, the Lancers will be tough to beat. "I think we do have a pretty darn good team," O'Neil said.
2. Bellflower St. John Bosco (Del Rey)--The Braves return 12 letterman, including five starters and a pitcher from last season's 19-3 squad. St. John Bosco will be especially strong up the middle, with three-year starters at second base, shortstop and center field. Cary Windes, who holds the Southern Section record for most home runs in a game (4), returns at shortstop. At second base is Jim Sterner, who quarterbacked the Braves football team which made it to the Big Five Conference title game. In center field is another football star, All-Big Five running back Oscar Meza, who hit .394 last year. Windes, Sterner and Meza not only anchor the defense but the offense as well, as Meza will bat leadoff, with Sterner batting third and Windes hitting cleanup. Rounding out the infield is Mark Hofmans, who returns at third base after hitting .429 last year, and junior Bob Jabukik at first base. "Defense will be our No. 1 strength," St. John Bosco Coach Ed Riley said. Pitching, though, is a question mark, as the Braves have to replace Pat Fitzsimons, who was 12-2 last year. Riley hopes he has adequate replacements in Tony Woltkamp and Tom Martinez, who combined for five wins and five saves last season. "If the pitching is consistent and right with the rest of the team, we'll be in the battle," Riley said.
3. Anaheim Loara (Empire)--The Saxons return their top two pitchers, plus three players who hit more than .300. Jeff Patterson (5-4, 3.07 ERA) and left-hander Alan Evans (2-1, 2.12 ERA) head the pitching staff that lifts Loara above the rest of the Empire League, which is again one of the better leagues. Patterson also hit .321. Among other returnees from last season's 18-11-1 team is All-League catcher Brian Roberts, who hit .406 with 6 home runs and 22 runs batted in, and outfielder-pitcher Carlos Castillo, who hit .333. Shortstop Carlos Vargas is the only returning starter in the infield, as Scott Wood takes over at first base, Danny Rodriguez at second base, and Craig Clayton at third. Clayton led the team in RBIs in American Legion ball over the summer. Patterson, Roberts, Vargas and outfielder Brian Malavar are all three-year starters.