These days, Dennis Johnson is less interested in produce than in offensive production, more concerned with stolen bases than with shoplifters.
Johnson left a major grocery chain in 1985 after 20 years to become a teacher and baseball coach at St. Bonaventure High. Now in his second year as varsity coach, Johnson has stocked a shelf full of victories, directing the Seraphs to the Tri-Valley League title and a first-round Southern Section 1-A Division playoff victory.
Tell a friend.
St. Bonaventure (18-3) will play Village Christian in the second round of the Southern Section 1-A Division playoffs Friday at 3:15 p.m. at The Master's College in Newhall. Also Friday, Fillmore will play host to Montclair Prep in another second-round 1-A game involving teams from the Tri-Valley and Alpha leagues.
Although successful in his latest vocation, Johnson is not exactly your friendly neighborhood ex-grocer. He runs a no-nonsense program--no fruits or nuts allowed.
"I am friendly with my players but I am not their friend," said Johnson, who teaches religion in the classroom and preaches a puritan ethic on the field.
The Seraphs are, in fact, a solemn bunch.
"We're not a real loud or rah-rah team," Johnson said. "The players are serious and intense, but rather to themselves."
Until games begin, that is, at which time they turn on opponents. St. Bonaventure has won 10 games in a row, including a 7-0 victory over Bel Air Prep in a first-round game Friday, behind a pair of pitchers who finish what they start and a lineup that includes seven players batting better than .290.
Right-handers Kevin Zoll (10-1) and Chris Castro (8-1) alternate starts. Zoll, a junior control and curveball specialist, has eight complete games and a microscopic earned-run average of 0.57. He has walked only 12 in 74 1/3 innings.
Castro, a senior, throws with more velocity but has occasional bouts of wildness: He has walked 34 in 49 1/3 innings. He has a knack for pitching out of jams, however, posting an ERA of 1.99.
Zoll, who plays shortstop when not pitching, and Castro, who plays third base, are also potent offensive players. Zoll leads the team with 24 runs scored and Castro leads with 24 runs batted in.
Junior right-fielder Chris Borchard, who joins Zoll as the only underclassman in the lineup, bats fourth and leads the team with a .468 batting average. Catcher Chris Gaston is batting .373 with 22 RBIs.
Village Christian (17-7) finished second in the Alpha League and defeated Bishop, 7-6, in the first round. The Crusaders are an excellent hitting team, evidenced by six players batting better than .400.
Matt Henzie leads the team at .519, followed closely by David Brownfield (.491), Kevin Ebenhoch (.472), Scott Danielson (.419), Craig Hudspeth (.418) and Matt Smay (.405).
Smay, the leadoff batter, has scored 40 runs and Danielson, the No. 3 hitter, has nine doubles, nine home runs and 37 RBIs.
Impressive numbers, no doubt, but somewhat inflated. Village Christian's home diamond is Bluebird Field in Sun Valley, a small, rock-strewn park that makes every hard-hit ball an adventure. The field at The Master's is far more conventional.
In another 1-A playoff game:
Montclair Prep (16-5-1) at Fillmore (14-6), 3:15 p.m.: Two months ago, Fillmore Coach Tom Ecklund was discouraged and distraught. His team--the defending 1-A champion--was losing games and he was losing players to injury and discipline problems.
Ecklund's outlook has brightened as the Flashes' play has improved. Fillmore finished second in the Tri-Valley League and crushed Templeton, 22-6, in the first round.
"I'm real happy with the team," Ecklund said. "We traveled some rough roads at the beginning, but the kids really pulled together."
Fillmore, like St. Bonaventure, has two reliable pitchers in Brad Edmonds and Bill Alonzo. Edmonds (9-2), a senior who never pitched in high school before this year, has been the most effective, posting a 1.03 ERA in 13 appearances.
"He came out of nowhere as a pitcher," Ecklund said. "He's very composed. Nothing seems to rattle him."
Edmonds, who bats third in the lineup and plays shortstop when not pitching, is in the lone returning starter from last year's championship team.
Several Flashes, however, were members of the team and they appear to have absorbed a winning feeling just by observing.
"They watched last year and felt the intensity," Ecklund said. "They saw the quality needed to become successful."
Among the major contributors are first baseman Rory Maus, who is batting .396 from the cleanup spot, and catcher Mike Kozar, who is batting .304. Center fielder Tony Cervantez, who saw action at designated-hitter last season, leads the team with 28 hits, 11 for extra bases.
Fillmore's team batting average is .329.
Montclair Prep, a private school in Van Nuys, is champion of the Alpha League and the top-seeded team. The Mounties start six sophomores and have eight players batting over .300.
Unbeaten senior Chris Anderson (9-0) will pitch. In 56 1/3 innings over 13 appearances, Anderson has an ERA of 1.12, 64 strikeouts and 28 walks. The rest of Montclair Prep's pitching staff is suspect.
The Mounties' best hitter is junior three-year starter Keyaan Cook, who has seven home runs, eight doubles and 28 RBIs to go with a .491 batting average. Cook is also quarterback of the football team and his brother Toi, a Montclair Prep gradate, is a defensive back for the New Orleans Saints.
The sophomore contingent includes catcher Brent Polacheck (.439), first baseman Andy Shaw (350), center fielder Leland Sparks (.294, 10 stolen bases) and Jared Baumblatt (.322).
Senior second baseman Chad Calabria (.344) anchors the team.