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Diamonds IN THE Rough : As College Baseball Gets Under Way After a Six-Month Break, the Key Ingredient to Each School's Success Is a Handful of Standout Players. A Preview of the New Season.

February 14, 1993|CHARLES SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The yearly overlap of sports at the local colleges has started, with baseball joining basketball at the forefront of the athletic scene. After a six-month hibernation, baseball workouts and practices have begun and the teams have taken their respective fields.

Cal State Los Angeles has opened the season with a 3-1 record, opening with a loss to The Masters' College on Feb. 3 and wins over Pacific and Cal State Stanislaus last week. East Los Angeles College has gotten off to a 2-2 start, and Los Angeles Community College's record is 2-1.

As at the start of most seasons, the lineups are still muddled. But it is clear that the key ingredients to each school's success will begin and end with a few standout players.

Here's a look at the teams and their top prospects for the season:

Cal State L.A.--The pitching staff is led by side-armer Shane Borowski, whose '92 earned-run average was an impressive 2.57.

Although Borowski's record was a mediocre 4-5 last year, the right-hander is expected to improve this season after hurling big wins over Cal State San Luis Obispo, which went on to compete in the Division II College World Series, and UC Riverside. His opponent in that contest was Darren Kirkreit, who went on to pitch for the '92 U.S. Olympic Team.

Returning sophomore center fielder Johnny Hilo will be called on to spark offensive rallies for the Golden Eagles. The First Team All-Conference selection hit .314 with three home runs and 35 RBIs last season.

Cal State L.A. finished last season with a 21-29 overall mark, but 10-year Coach John Herbold emphasizes the numbers his players have posted off the field.

The team "came in No. 1 academically among all the other Cal State L.A. sports teams. That is just as important as finishing in first place athletically," Herbold said.

Despite last year's losing record, Cal State L.A. is also racking up impressive statistics on the baseball diamond.

The Golden Eagles are tied for 23rd on professional baseball's all-time college draft list, the only Division II school in the Top 25. Herbold said the key is getting qualified players on the field as soon as they make the team.

"We don't believe in redshirting, because a player should get in here and be on his way to begin his career," Herbold said. "The big thing about this team is that you play."

Players to watch this year are freshmen Robert Burns of Arroyo Grande High School and Randall Harris from University High. The duo will split time platooning in left field.

"We have the potential to win the conference," Herbold said.

Los Angeles City College--Dan Cowgill returns in his third year as baseball coach at LACC after leading the Cubs to a 20-17 record last year. Cowgill has amassed a 39-37 record during his tenure and has seen eight of his players drafted into professional baseball.

Cowgill has the dubious distinction of being the only community college baseball coach in the area who will have no players returning from last year's team. But he is probably at the top of the list among his coaching counterparts when it comes to the depth of his incoming high school talent.

LACC's top recruit is City Baseball Player of the Year James Lofton, from city champion Fremont High.

Lofton will play shortstop, and joining him in the infield will be brothers Andy and Tony Aguilar, at first base and catcher, respectively. The Aguilars were members of the '91 Franklin High championship team.

"These kids come from winning traditions, but they haven't proven anything on the college level yet," Cowgill said.

Cowgill perceives his club's balance to be its strong suit.

"This year we have a lot of balance--speed, defense and pitching." Cowgill said. "The talent is definitely there."

East Los Angeles College--The Huskies made it to the quarterfinals of the state playoffs last season before being eliminated after losses to Harbor City College and Cerritos College. Last year's club tied a school record for most wins in a season, going 28-17.

According to four-year Coach Al Cone, East L.A.'s finish this season in the South Coast Athletic Conference will be determined by the performance of the pitching staff. "Pitching is our strength. We will only go as far as it will carry us," Cone said.

Cone's ace will be 6-foot-2 sophomore southpaw Edgar Orta.

Though injured much of last season, Orta managed a 3-1 record with a 3.33 ERA.

Chris Romero, a freshman from Wilson High School, was a first-team All-City 3-A performer in '92 and brings control and composure to the Huskies pitching staff.

Sophomores Jerry Whitaker, who led the team in games pitched, 14, last season, Jim Patrick, 5-0 last year, and Gabriel Orosco, 2-3 last season, round out Cone's top five hurlers.

Rick Perez, an honorable mention All-Conference player as a freshman, hit .370 with two home runs and 10 RBIs in 24 games last year.

As if trying to repeat last year's post-season success isn't difficult enough, East L.A. faces a much tougher road schedule this season.

The Huskies' opponents include the No. 2-ranked team, Harbor City College, No. 6 Riverside City College and two community colleges ranked in the state Top 20--Cerritos and San Bernardino Valley.

However, the Huskies' cause will be helped basketball standout Isaac Burton, who Cone feels will be the team's best athlete.

"Isaac told me that he will play anything that will help the team," Cone said.

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