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HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETE OF THE WEEK

It All Falls Into Place for Suppan, Crespi's Quiet Man

April 07, 1993|JEFF FLETCHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Pop. Whiz. Pop.

The first pop is Jeff Suppan's bubble gum. The second, the catcher's mitt.

The whiz in between is what is most troublesome for batters. Suppan, Crespi's standout right-hander, has been dominating with pinpoint control of his fastball, a sharp curve and a good changeup.

Don't ask him about it, though.

For example, just how hard does he throw?

"I don't know," Suppan says. "There's always rumors."

How does he explain his remarkable strikeout-to-walk ratio? This year in 35 innings, he has 39 strikeouts and two walks, after striking out 82 and walking 19 last year.

"I don't know. I could always just throw the ball and it ended up right where I wanted it to go," he says.

As he was beating rival Notre Dame with a five-hitter on Saturday, what was he thinking?

"I really don't know what was going through my head."

One more question. Would he rather pitch a shutout, as he did for nine innings against Loyola two weeks ago, or hit a home run, as he did three times last week?

"I don't know. That's a tough call."

This is Jeff Suppan--quiet, except for the pop of his bubble gum and his fastball.

"It's a kind of relaxed intensity," catcher Casey Snow said.

Said Coach Scott Muckey: "He's a pretty soft-spoken guy. What you see is what you get."

What you see is the top pitcher in the area. Suppan, who already has signed with UCLA, has a 4-1 record with a 1.00 earned-run average. In 35 innings, he has allowed 26 hits and only 28 baserunners.

He has been hitting well too. As Crespi's designated hitter, Suppan is batting .410 with three home runs and 10 runs batted in.

In the Celts' biggest game of the season so far--Saturday against previously unbeaten Notre Dame--Suppan homered in his first two at-bats against Chris Leveque to tie the score after Notre Dame had taken a 2-0 lead in the first.

By the time Crespi had taken a 3-2 lead in the fourth, Suppan was breezing. Over the final five innings, he gave up one hit and struck out seven.

"I was in a zone," Suppan said. "It went by so fast. I pitched six innings before I even realized it."

And his fastball was by the Notre Dame hitters before they realized it. Suppan's fastball has been clocked no higher than the low-80 m.p.h range, but he said he was throwing harder against Notre Dame, because, well, because it was Notre Dame.

"Whenever we have a big game, he seems to rise to the occasion," Muckey said.

According to Muckey, in the seventh inning against the Knights, a scout clocked Suppan's fastball at 85 m.p.h.--another of those "rumors" Suppan talks about.

Radar guns have been tracking Suppan for some time. Any scouts or recruiters who hadn't known of Suppan got an education over the summer. During the American Legion season, he posted an 8-1 record with an 0.93 ERA. In 69 innings, he struck out 120 and walked 11, a ratio of nearly 12 to one.

The Bruins snapped him up during the NCAA early-signing period in November. Major league baseball will have a shot at him during the amateur draft in June. Suppan will consider offers but said he hasn't given much thought to a dollar figure that would woo him from UCLA.

"I'm just trying to concentrate on the game and have fun and do senior things," Suppan said. "It's in the back of my mind, but I try not to get too stressed out."

Of course.

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