If early indications are correct, there will be a familiar look to the title races in Southern California's lower-division college baseball conferences this season.
Cal State Dominguez Hills is favored in the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. again. Azusa Pacific is again considered the team to beat in the National Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics District III, and La Verne is the choice in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
Dominguez Hills, which won its second consecutive CCAA title and finished fifth in the NCAA Division II World Series last year, might have been the clear-cut conference favorite if not for a rash of preseason injuries including second baseman John Paboojian's broken leg and pitcher Ron Bunse's separated shoulder.
But the Toros, 43-15 last season, should be strong. Their strength is a pitching staff that features seniors Joe Cortez, who was 8-2 with a 3.29 earned-run average last season, and Chris Haslock, who was 7-2 with a 2.42 ERA and 12 saves. The Toros should also have an ample offense with the return of center fielder Joe Pardo, who batted .302 last season; first baseman Jeff Sears (.296) and Joe Jones (.291) in right field.
Two other teams, Cal State Northridge and Cal Poly Pomona, could give Dominguez Hills trouble.
Northridge, which lost to the Toros in the Division II West Regional final, was 37-22 overall and second in the CCAA. This year the it should have one of the best offensive teams in the conference. The leaders are catcher Scott McIntyre (.299, 11 homers, 43 runs batted in) and outfielders Mark Anderson (.369, 13 homers, 50 RBI) and Lenn Gilmore (.341, 10 HR, 48 RBI), and the Matadors have a good newcomer in outfielder John Bonilla.
The biggest plus for Pomona, which was 31-29 overall and third in the CCAA, is solid hitting that features shortstop Dave Hajek (.353) and first baseman Keith Barrett (10 homers, 43 RBI). Two others are second baseman Miccal Jackson (.294) and outfielder Jim Stowell (.299). But the pitching is untested, and the Broncos, as they always do, face only Division I teams in a challenging nonconference schedule.
Offense does not figure to be a problem for UC Riverside, which was 29-23 overall and fifth in the conference. Among the leaders are outfielders Jeff Goodale (.360) and Pete Weber (.339) and third baseman Mike Eatinger (.339). The key is pitching, and the Highlanders had a poor team ERA of 5.87 last year. The top returning pitcher is Richard Pickowitz, who was 6-3 with a 3.02 ERA.
The situation is just the opposite for Chapman, which has the makings of an outstanding pitching staff led by sophomore Dave Bird. Two other standouts are sophomore Steve Halweg and junior reliever Matt Patuano. The Panthers, 26-29 overall and fourth in the CCAA, are led on offense by speedy outfielder Bryan Beals (33 stolen bases last season), catcher Bucky Bollinger and third baseman Tony Gardea.
Cal State Los Angeles has 21 players returning from a team that was 25-33 and tied Cal Poly San Luis Obispo for last in the CCAA. Run production should not be a problem for the Golden Eagles, who are headed by outfielder Mica Lewis (.332, 23 stolen bases), catcher Jim Lynch (.351) and outfielder Loy McBride. The pitching leaders are Rod Windes and Bill Bene.
With most of its top players gone from a team that struggled to a 20-31 record last year, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo will rely mainly on junior college transfers. The only every-day players returning are second baseman Joe Rumsey, who batted .324, and outfielder Rich Shepperd (.299). However, pitching could be a strength led by senior Erik Bratlien (7-3, 3.42).
In the Golden State Athletic Conference, Azusa Pacific Coach Tony Barbone says his team may not have as much power as last year's conference champions, but could be better all-around. The Cougars, 32-21 in 1987, have three outstanding hitters in first baseman Leonard Avalos (.371, 16 homers), outfielder Ralph Acosta (.408) and second baseman Javier Murillo (.362). The difference is the pitching led by Dean Weaver (9-3, 4.19 ERA) and Ron Bush.
After finishing 27-22 and second in the GSAC a year ago, Westmont figures again to provide the strongest competition for Azusa Pacific in the conference. The Warriors have the best pitching in the conference with starter Mike Ashworth, an all-NAIA District 3 player who was 7-3 with a 3.31 ERA, and reliever Tony Tubbs, who was 6-1 with a 2.45 ERA and 8 saves. Combined with an excellent defense, Westmont does not figure to allow a lot of runs.
Southern California College was one of the best hitting teams in the GSAC last season. With the return of players such as catcher Carlos Salazar (.343, 17 homers), shortstop Kevin Kasper (.318) and outfielder Joe Holden (.315), the Vanguards (23-33 last year) have the offense to defend their District 3 title. The question is pitching, which should be led by Robert Mansfield (6-9, 3.67).