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Long Beach Sports : Banged-Up Toros Happy to Get Back to the Business of Baseball : Colleges: A turbulent off-season may help unify the 13th-ranked team in NCAA Division II.

February 11, 1993|BARRY BAUM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Last season it was bad luck on the field. Now it seems a curse is following the Cal State Dominguez Hills baseball team.

In August, sophomore relief pitcher Tony Velasquez was shot in his home while trying to fend off a gunman. The bullet passed through his left side. After taking off a few months from pitching, Velasquez returned in November.

Starting pitcher Tom Ball suffered a broken jaw in September after being assaulted in a parking lot. He sat out six weeks of practice.

Infielder Roy Lozano's index finger on his throwing hand has not healed correctly from a recent beating in a parking lot.

Fortunately, the three players were well enough to participate when the Toros opened the season last week with an 18-6 win over Biola University, then defeated Southern California College, 2-1.

Adversity may actually have brought the Toros closer to each other.

"There have been a number of things that all of our guys have had to rally around," Coach George Wing said. "We're a very close-knit group on the field and off."

Dominguez Hills can use any edge it can muster. Coming off a disappointing 22-25 season, the Toros are surprisingly ranked 13th (tied with Delta State) in an NCAA Division II preseason poll by Collegiate Baseball magazine.

Last year, the Toros were apt to collapse in the late innings, caused, Wing said, by lack of confidence.

"It was almost like we were sensing something was going to happen," Wing said. "A negative thought entered a lot of people's heads. That's not there now.

"You've got infielders now, that were question marks last year, telling the pitcher they want the ground ball."

Plugging the spots up the middle will be sophomore Jose Lara, who started only three games last season, at second base, and junior Jason Gill, who last played with Cuesta Community College, at shortstop.

"We've got a shortstop that is not the most talented on the West Coast, but he's got a big heart, calling for ground balls with the game on the line," Wing said.

Despite a solid season at the plate in 1992, when switch-hitter Greg Bergeron batted .290 and drove in 21 runs, Wing has decided to move the 5-foot-11, 180-pound junior from third base to first. Bergeron led the team with 22 errors last year. Replacing Bergeron at third will be Harbor transfer Alfredo Rodriguez.

Senior Corey Woinarowicz will start in left field. Woinarowicz, who bats left and throws right, batted .292 in 65 at-bats in 1992.

Wing said the competition for the center field spot is between Mike Olmos, a junior transfer from Long Beach City College, and senior Eric Shibley. Shibley batted only .171 in 1992 after winning an honorable mention from the All-California Collegiate Athletic Assn. as a sophomore when he batted .314 and scored 23 runs. Right field will be played by Rio Hondo transfer Eric Martin, a junior who batted .371 with seven home runs in 1992.

The catcher will be senior Shawn Wickoff, an honorable mention All-CCAA selection in 1992. Wickoff batted .325, drove in 24 runs, scored 25 runs and stole 11 bases last year.

Wing is expecting nothing less from his right-handed hitting catcher this year.

"There's no reason why someone blessed with the ability he's got shouldn't have a great year," Wing said.

Wing is also optimistic about the pitching staff and says five players are competing for three spots in the rotation. Those pitchers include left-handers Tom Ball and Scott Veeder and right-handers Juan Soriano, Ken Gajewski and Eric Dunkin.

Ball, who was 8-5 with a 2.85 earned-run average, is almost surely a starter, but the rest of the rotation is up for grabs.

"Our park is geared toward left-handed pitching, so I am leaning toward Veeder, but the way Dunkin and Soriano threw recently at an intrasquad (game) I don't know," Wing said.

Great pitching, fielding and hitting is vital to a winning season, but Wing points to another component.

"It's a matter of chemistry," he said. "That's what I keep harping to these guys. Chemistry is going to get us through any hard times once we get into crunch time."

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