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Stoll Answers the Call : Baseball: Sophomore left-hander gets the starting nod in Occidental's tough games.

April 12, 1990|GARY KLEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Dave Stoll has good stuff.

The Occidental College sophomore left-hander throws a deceptively quick fastball, a deceptively slow changeup and a slider that is just plain deceptive.

Last season, Stoll threw his repertoire at Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference batters and came away with a conference-leading 82 strikeouts in 85 innings.

Asked recently how a pitcher who never led a league in strikeouts before could accomplish that feat his first year in college, Stoll was as evasive as his pitches.

"I just got lucky," he said.

Actually, Occidental Coach Jeff Henderson was the lucky one when he landed Stoll out of Saratoga High in Northern California. Henderson didn't know what he was getting when he learned Stoll was coming to Occidental to play football and baseball.

Unlike at Division I and Division II schools, there is no recruiting budget--nor athletic scholarships--at Division III Occidental.

Henderson, therefore, never got a chance to see Stoll pitch.

"I had to go on a lot of word of mouth, coaches' recommendations and his stats," Henderson said. "The only thing I knew was that I needed a freshman to come in and start for me."

Stoll, however, was penciled in as a short reliever when the season began in 1989, the guy who would close the door for the Tigers in the late innings.

That plan lasted exactly one game.

Mike Bonnetto, who was supposed to be the team's ace, injured his arm in the first game and Stoll was pressed into the rotation.

He compiled an 8-3 record and 3.39 earned-run average for the Tigers, who finished 22-17 overall and 10-8 in the SCIAC.

The season was noteworthy for Stoll not only from a statistical standpoint, but a physical one as well. For the first time since his freshman year in high school, his season was not interrupted by an elbow or back injury.

"Last year, we were pretty selective in assigning him starts," Henderson said. "We wanted to make sure he was successful. This year, he gets all the tough starts. He gets the ball when we need a win."

Stoll, 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, is 4-3 with a 3.21 ERA this season and has 51 strikeouts in 67 1/3 innings.

And while his statistics are not substantially different than they were last season, Stoll, the pitcher, is better.

Last summer, he competed in a collegiate summer league and played against teams composed of mostly Division I players and former minor leaguers.

"You can see the change in him," Occidental catcher Mike Kniseley said. "He played against some good players and got to see that guys aren't going to back down or give in.

"It made his will on the mound that much stronger."

Stoll, a former defensive back, gave up football this year so he could concentrate on baseball and academics.

Perhaps Stoll's greatest achievement this season has been his ability to maintain his composure amid turmoil.

With more veteran players than any Tiger club since its SCIAC championship team of 1982, Occidental was expected to make a strong run for the conference title.

The Tigers are still in contention--they are one game behind LaVerne, Whittier, Redlands and Claremont, all of whom have three losses--but they are not scoring runs in their must-win games.

Usually, that's when Stoll is on the mound.

"He seems to get the 'Hershiser Syndrome,' " Kniseley said, referring to the lack of offensive support Dodger pitcher Orel Hershiser experienced last season. "He goes out and pitches great and we don't support him, then other guys go out and we score 11 or 12 runs."

Stoll is unfazed by the team's lack of production.

"I was ready for it," Stoll said. "I knew I was going to have to face the toughest teams this year and put my numbers aside and hang with it. My goal is to not let it get to me."

With nine games left in conference play, he still believes the Tigers will rally for the title.

"We can go 9-0 the rest of the way," Stoll said. "It sounds hard but we have a good chance of doing it."

Henderson is looking forward to a strong finish by all of his players, especially Stoll.

"He's become a smarter pitcher after every game," Henderson said. "He's continuing to learn and he hasn't reached his potential by any means."

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