Three fine teams are battling for the Pioneer League title: Leuzinger, El Segundo, Redondo. Most prep baseball observers say pitching will decide the championship.
If the axiom holds that standout pitchers dominate high school baseball, then what happens when three good teams, each with a star pitcher, face off for a league title?
That's the situation in the Pioneer League over the next two weeks when Leuzinger, Redondo and El Segundo play two-game series against each other. The games will not only determine the Pioneer title but probably top seeding in the CIF 3-A playoffs.
In the 3-A ratings two weeks ago, the teams were ranked 1-2-3 (Leuzinger, Redondo, El Segundo), an unparalleled grouping for one league in the memory of any of the coaches, including El Segundo's John Stevenson, who has been there since the 1950s. In the latest ratings, Leuzinger is No. 1 with an 18-3 record. Redondo is No. 2 at 14-6 and El Segundo has slipped to No. 4 after several non-conference defeats.
On a personal level, the games may also determine the king of the hill in the South Bay. Each team has a star pitcher: Scott Davison at Redondo, John Ingram at Leuzinger and Heath Jones at El Segundo.
All three teams are 4-0 in league, having taken turns beating up on Miraleste, Morningside and Centennial.
The schedule: This week Leuzinger and Redondo play Friday night at Redondo after opening their series Wednesday. Next week, El Segundo and Leuzinger play a Wednesday-Friday home-and-home series. In the second week of May, El Segundo and Redondo close out the Pioneer season with Wednesday-Friday games.
Last weekend, while Ingram and Davison were throwing masterpieces in non-conference games, the coaches were debating whether to match their star pitchers or avoid the one-on-one duel. Either case presents a no-win situation: Matched up, one figures to lose or get no decision; if one coach holds his ace until Friday, he appears to be playing for a split.
That's why El Segundo's Stevenson offered the theory that the team with the best No. 2 pitcher has the edge. Leuzinger's Dennis Bowman figured the key was which team could hit the other's ace. Redondo Coach Harry Jenkins theorized that the team that hit best would win.
The teams are pretty even. Leuzinger is hitting well, but going into the big series Bowman said, "If someone was to ask me right now, 'Would you be happy with a split,' I'd say yeah. You have to avoid getting swept."
Leuzinger's ace is Ingram, 11-1, a 6-4, 210-pound left-hander who throws hard with an over-the-top motion and has a good curve. He has struck out about 110 batters in 60 innings. Nearly half a dozen scouts were in the stands Saturday when he shut out University High, 14-0. "He has a chance to be drafted. A lot of it depends on how he does against the big boys (Redondo and El Segundo)," Bowman said.
Paced by the steady play and hitting of shortstop Johnny Blood, second baseman Ray Robles, brothers Carlos and Alfredo Rodriguez and outfielder Wayne Johnson, the Olympians have rung up a .320 team average. Bowman is even more impressed with his team's defense. "About 40% of our games have been errorless," he said.
Leuzinger's second starter is Ramon Felix, and lately Bowman has been using Blood as a spot starter and reliever. He won one game and saved another last week against Centennial.
El Segundo began the season with an injury problem that was compounded by a late start by many of the players whose basketball and soccer teams were in CIF winter playoffs. The young team--which has only five seniors--is rounding into shape with pinch hitter Scott Talanoa returning to the lineup with a home run last week after having been out with a broken foot and pitcher Dan Parente coming back from a traffic accident in which he suffered a broken wrist.
"Parente is playing but he's at the point everybody else was in early March," Stevenson said. "Of our 16 (players), we probably have six basketball players and six soccer players. So Leuzinger and Redondo were ready to go out of the gate. We weren't. The timing is good--we're playing our toughest games at the end of the year."
Parente figured to be the Eagles' ace, but while he has been recuperating, junior Jones has emerged. The younger brother of major league outfielder Tracy Jones, the right-hander has size (6-4, 185) and throws hard, generating speed with a whipping motion that makes right-handed batters think twice about digging in.
"He's been a little inconsistent. . . . He had one bad game, a couple average ones and three or four real good games," Stevenson said shortly before Jones one-hit Miraleste last week to improve his league record to 2-0. Jones plays first base and outfield when not pitching and hits with power. Talanoa, who recently signed for a baseball scholarship with Cal State Fullerton, has awesome strength at 6-5, 245.