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Looking for Gems on the Diamond : Community colleges: It appears this will be a rebuilding season for the Citrus, Mt. San Antonio and Pasadena City baseball teams.


The storms that swept through Southern California a few weeks ago put baseball fields virtually underwater and hindered season preparations for community college teams.

But two solid weeks of rain did little to dampen the enthusiasm of the players at Citrus, Mt. San Antonio and Pasadena City colleges, who have been practicing four months in anticipation of Friday's season openers.

Citrus plays Los Angeles Mission in the first round of the Taft tournament, Mt. SAC plays host to Moorpark, and Pasadena plays Los Angeles Valley in the first round of a tournament in San Diego. The openers mark the beginning of the more than 35 games each team will play with hopes of advancing to the regional playoffs.

Citrus, under Coach Skip Claprood, is the two-time defending champion of the Foothill Conference. The Owls finished 31-10 last season and Claprood earned his 500th victory in his 19th season.

Citrus, however, lost 18 players from that team and has only two returning starters, center fielder Shane Smith, who batted .348, and third baseman Mike Claprood, the coach's son, who batted .302.

"We're very inexperienced," Skip Claprood said. "We expect to be a contender, but we have a ways to go."

Despite losing almost every pitcher from a staff that helped Citrus reach the regionals last season, the Owls, once again, will be strong on the mound. Scott Rivett, a 6-foot-3 freshman from Upland, will open the season as the Owls' No. 1 pitcher on a staff that also includes sophomore left-hander John BeKarr, who sat out last season, and sophomore Chris Watson, who was 4-0 in 15 innings in 1992.

Mark Rogers, who played at Western Christian High, will play first or third base and will also be used as a relief pitcher. Shortstop Brian Cooper from Glendora will also pitch in relief. Kevin Schramm, a first baseman-designated hitter from Arcadia, is another top newcomer.

"This ballclub has the chance to be an outstanding team because we have very good pitching," Claprood said. "Our conference race is going to be competitive. I like Chaffey's chances because they have two good pitchers. But the championship has to go through Glendora."

Mt. SAC's hopes for a championship in the South Coast Conference are tempered somewhat by the addition of the league's newest member, perennial power Los Angeles Harbor.

"I hear Harbor and Long Beach are loaded, and Cerritos is always going to have players, so it's going to be tough," said Mt. SAC Coach Art Mazmanian, who begins his 25th season with the Mounties.

Mazmanian has two starters back from a team that finished 30-17 and 14-10 in conference and advanced to the second round of the regional playoffs.

Sophomore shortstop Chad Griffin made only nine errors in 47 games last season. Right fielder Chris Romero batted .270.

David Hernandez, who played at Northview High, will be the Mounties' opening day pitcher. Hernandez can also play third base. Other newcomers include catcher Robert Sena from Rowland, pitcher John Daniels and catcher Kurt Lippert from Covina, and second baseman Ryan Opatkiewicz and pitcher-outfielder Rich Lopez from Don Lugo.

"Our lack of experience is going to hurt, but our pitching and defense gives us a chance," Mazmanian said. "It's just a question of whether the kids come through with the bat."

Pasadena Coach Chuck Lyon, who took over the Lancer program just before the start of the 1992 season, is optimistic about his team's chances to improve upon its 4-26 finish.

Twenty-one of the Lancers' 26 players are freshmen, including 10 of the 11 pitchers.

"We're not bad position-wise, but our pitching has been very mediocre through the fall," Lyon said. "I'm hoping for more consistency once the season begins."

The Lancers, who also play in the South Coast Conference, will be led by sophomore center fielder Nathan Hawkins, who batted .302 last season.

Top newcomers include outfielder Sef Salis from Pasadena High, first baseman Noel Toledo from Monroe, shortstop Danny Hernandez from West Covina, and catcher David Castillo from Alemany.

The pitching staff will be led by left-hander Robert Ramos from El Monte and Jose Villafana from Sylmar.

Pasadena has been transplanted from its home field at Brookside Park in Pasadena since Jan. 5 because of the NFL Experience that was part of the Super Bowl festivities. The Lancers will play some of their home games at Citrus, Los Angeles City College and La Canada High until the Brookside field is returned to playing condition.

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