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Uni High Powers Way Through Transition : Baseball: Blend of experience and youth is helping the Warriors keep hopes alive for a berth in City playoffs.


WEST L.A. — It was a dream come true for Jon Beckerman when he was named last year to replace Frank Cruz as University High baseball coach.

Beckerman, 25, was a member Cruz's first winning team (23-9) in 1986. Cruz, who led the Warriors to a City championship in 1988 and the semifinals in 1992, was named an assistant at USC.

After three seasons as University's junior varsity coach, Beckerman was sad to see Cruz leave, but happy to have an opportunity to become coach.

"I knew that it was going to be tough replacing a great coach," said Beckerman, who was an outfielder for two seasons under Cruz. "But, I also knew that my job would be that much more difficult because most of the teams' experienced players would be gone from last year's team."

University, which was the City's top-rated team for most of last season and winner of three consecutive Western League titles, had only three players with varsity experience returning this season.

If there ever was a season when the Warriors' Western League opponents would give University problems, it would be this year.

"Going into the season, I knew that we would have only three seniors in Doug Jarvis, J.C. Andre and Chris Tinson," Beckerman said. "So, I decided to go with a lot of younger guys."

Catcher Kirk Romo, first baseman Joey Gabriel, pitcher Kashi Jobrani and outfielders James Fabro and Jesse Kurtz-Nicholl are University's version of the Fab Five sophomores.

"I had to go with them knowing that they would be good players in years to come but that we would take our lumps this season," Beckerman said. "Basically, this is really a rebuilding year for us."

If that is true, University's Western League opponents have a problem on their hands.

All University has done is win against them. Despite losing two games to Venice last week, the Warriors were 8-2 in Western League play.

This week, University (10-11) plays two games with league-leading Westchester in attempt to keep its playoff hopes alive.

"The key for us is that our younger guys have really stepped up," said shortstop Tinson, the team's defensive leader. "They've played like they have been (playing varsity) for a while."

Beckerman could not be more pleased with the development of the sophomores.

Gabriel is the top batter with a .357 average in league games and has two home runs and 20 runs batted in. Kurtz-Nicholl is batting .333, Romo is at .323 and Fabro is at .322.

"They are all hard workers and it has shown," Beckerman said. "They are not great varsity hitters yet, but they will be. Defensively, they are very raw but talented."

Kurtz-Nicholl says the sophomores have not tried to win games by themselves.

"We have all went into games not worried about personal accomplishments," Kurtz-Nicholl said. "We went in there with the coaches' confidence and just tried to help the team win.

"At first, we were surprised to do so well with so many sophomores playing. But, once we started winning, everyone started to gain confidence."

According to Beckerman, the biggest key has been the leadership provided by the seniors.

"On and off the field, Jarvis, Andre and Tinson carried us at the beginning of the season," said Beckerman, who played for two seasons at Santa Monica College before beginning his coaching career. "I was very lucky to inherit players like them."

Jarvis, an All-City selection last year, has been the force behind the Warriors' success.

In league play, he has a 4-0 record with a 2.48 earned-run average. A first baseman when he doesn't pitch, Jarvis is batting .515 with three home runs and 17 runs batted in.

"Our primary goal was to win our league title and our secondary goal was to make the playoffs," Beckerman said. "And in order for us to reach our second goal we need to win games to stay in the race."

Whether University makes the playoffs or not, the Warriors have come a long way this season with their sophomores.

"We realize that we have a lot to learn," Kurtz-Nicholl said. "But, right now we want to send the seniors off with a winning record."

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