Bob Ickes, Mater Dei High School's baseball coach for 14 years, thought three years ago that he had a team that comes along once in a lifetime.
The Monarchs were ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today for most of the season and finished 24-2. Five players went on to Division I college programs.
"I thought I'd only be fortunate enough to have one great team," Ickes said. "But I might have another."
1 Mater Dei has opened the 1988 season with six consecutive victories and is coming off an impressive four-game sweep in the Newport Elks tournament in which the Monarchs scored 52 runs.
Mater Dei, the top-ranked team in The Times' preseason poll, has five left-handed batters in the starting lineup and three strong right-handed pitchers.
"We're hitting the ball real, real well," Ickes said. "Our team average must be well above .350."
Right fielder Jim Austin has missed two games but is batting .571 with 13 runs batted in. First baseman Joe Ciccarella provides the power; he has 3 homers and 10 RBIs. The Monarchs' ninth hitter, sophomore second baseman Lionel Hastings, is batting .462 with eight RBIs.
"We've got talent, but what I really like about this team is that everyone gets along and enjoys coming to practice every day," Ickes said. "They remind me of that '85 team."
Junior pitchers Tony Pena (2-0) and Brian Frankel (2-0) and senior Bill Brockschmidt (1-0) are all tall right-handers with good control.
Ickes may get a bonus if pitcher Char Ruppel receives a doctor's release to join the team. Ruppel threw a one-hitter as a sophomore but did not pitch last season when he developed elbow problems.
"The most pleasant surprise has been the play of our infield," Ickes said. "We graduated our second baseman, shortstop and third baseman, and I thought it would be a problem replacing them.
"But with the exception of a breakdown against Estancia in the Newport Elks tournament, we've played very good defense."
The Monarchs more than made up for some fielding lapses against Estancia by scoring 15 runs in one inning in a 20-15 victory.
2 Granted, the Aztecs (4-3) already have lost three games and are batting only .248 as a team, but there's too much talent here to overlook.
Esperanza's double-play combination of second baseman Doug Saunders and shortstop Jason Moler is the best in the county. Saunders is batting .580, but Moler, who also pitches, has been struggling.
"Jason threw a two-hitter against Long Beach Jordan and lost, 4-3," said Mike Curran, Esperanza coach. "We've been experiencing some growing pains.
"Everybody ranked us No. 1, and I think they underestimated the loss of Tom Redington, Bart Goldman and Brent Bish. Redington signed with the Atlanta Braves, Goldman is at UC Irvine and Bish is at Cal State L.A. Those were three very good players."
Esperanza won the Southern Section 4-A title in 1986 and was the runner-up to Lakewood last season. The Aztecs batted .368 in their championship season and .340 last year, so the .248 mark this season is very uncharacteristic.
"We've seen some good pitching, and everybody has been sky-high trying to beat us," Curran said. "At this point, we're still trying to find ourselves."
Don't be surprised if Esperanza finds itself in a third straight championship game before the season is over.
3 The Golden Hawks (7-1) have shown that they can score runs, averaging seven per game, but they also have allowed a lot of runs in nonleague play.
"We played five games in six days, so you have to expect that," said Steve Gullotti, El Dorado coach. "I used eight pitchers, and when we get to league play, I'll be using three."
The three players who are expected to do most of the pitching are juniors Pete Janicki (1-1) and Matt Luke (0-0) and senior Kevin Schula (1-0). Luke, a left-hander, threw four shutout innings against Huntington Beach.
The Hawks' top player, outfielder Chris Facione, has only 4 hits in 20 at-bats but showed signs of ending his slump with a home run and single against Servite.
Third baseman Chris Olsen and right fielder Greg Fife are quality players, and Schula provides added offense as a designated hitter when he's not pitching.
"We have three or four players struggling, so I'm real happy to be scoring runs," Gullotti said.
4 Easily the surprise team of the season, the Oilers (9-1) have won more games than anyone in the county with some timely hitting and lots of hustle.
"We don't have a lot of power, so we've had to rely on aggressiveness and team speed," said Coach Mike Dodd. "I've used a lot of pitchers, and they've all gotten the ball over the plate."
Dodd said designated hitter Chance Agnew carried the team through the final three games of the Loara tournament with his hitting, and second baseman Gerad Cowhorn is batting about .400.