The Golden League's preseason baseball favorite, Quartz Hill High, has been as good as advertised. In more ways than one.
Hanging on the school's outfield fence are small, colorful business billboards, similar to ones fans might see at a minor league ballpark.
Coach Mike Nielson said he put up the billboards to help create more perspective for his players, who had depth-perception problems while looking through the outfield's cyclone fencing.
"There's nothing beyond that but the desert," Nielson said. "You can see right through the fence. Hopefully, we'll put up a wind screen next year."
The billboards might generate the funding. And the sponsors definitely have a familiar ring. The relatives of catcher Chris Grado, infielder Brian Willey, outfielder Brian Zemke and first baseman Mike Caudillo anted up for the advertisements.
How has Antelope Valley managed to right the ship in league play after an 0-6 start? The simplest answer: Eric Cole.
Cole, a senior third baseman, has been playing at another level.
"It's not like they're not trying to pitch around him," Coach Ed t'Sas said.
Cole's numbers through 12 league games border on the stratospheric: 23 for 44 (.523) with seven doubles, two triples, seven homers, 27 runs batted in and two stolen bases. He scored 19 runs, walked three times and struck out five times in that stretch. . . .
Highland right-hander Jeremy Casteel (6-2, 200) was promoted from the junior varsity last week and essentially thrown to the wolves in his first start. The freshman responded with a 4-2 victory over second-place Palmdale, which entered the game ranked No. 7 in Southern Section Division III.
"He exceeded our every expectation," Coach Mike Van Cheri said.
Casteel allowed one earned run and nine hits in the eight-inning victory, struck out four and walked three. In both the seventh and eighth innings, he recorded the third out with a bases-loaded strikeout.
Highland pitcher-first baseman Jim Reel had a memorable streak snapped in last Friday's victory over Palmdale, but you won't hear him complaining about it.
The senior recorded an extra-base hit in his previous six games before going three for four (all singles) against Palmdale. Over the past seven games, dating to a spring tournament victory over Servite, Reel is 13 for 25 with 19 RBIs. He has driven in at least one run in each of the seven games.
In the past four games, Reel has driven in 16 runs. Overall, he is 25 for 55 (.425) with a league-high 33 RBIs. . . .
Palmdale started the season with the best pitching staff in the league, but won't finish that way.
Senior Joe Garcia, the team's most-experienced starter who suffered a torn ankle tendon and has been sidelined for three weeks, probably is lost for the season. Garcia is 3-2 with one save and an earned-run average of 2.21.
"I might as well say it--he's probably through for the year," Coach Kent Bothwell said.
So is junior Brian Welsh, who was 3-0 with an ERA of 2.07. Welsh was declared academically ineligible last week when his grade-point average fell below the required 2.0. Outfielder Bob Harmon, formerly used in relief, and left-hander Dave Glick will try to fill the pitching void.
VALLEY PAC-8 CONFERENCE
So what if Canoga Park is in last place in the Mid-Valley League? There is a silver lining. The Hunters (6-12) have won more games this season than in the past three years combined. Canoga Park was 4-52 in the 1990s before this season. . . .
How much better is Monroe than its Mid-Valley League opponents? Eleven games into league play last week, the Vikings clinched at least a share of the league title with \o7 six \f7 games left to play. Two days later, they clinched it outright. . . .
\o7 * Who's hot: \f7 Sylmar's Shane Rankin is batting .700 in the past six games (14 of 20). Teammates Anthony Martinez and Oscar Mendoza each has hit safely in 20 of 22 games this season. Martinez, the Spartans' leadoff batter, has walked only three times in 84 plate appearances.
Poly's Danny Martinez, the leadoff batter, is hitting .556 (10 of 18) with runners in scoring position and leads the team with 35 total bases. Junior catcher Luciano Cuevas has made only one error. . . .
Monroe senior right-hander Jorge Dorado (6-0) is 20-2 in three varsity seasons.
At 5-foot-8, 170 pounds, Ron Botley of Poly may be better proportioned for football than volleyball, and indeed, the senior rushed for more than 1,800 yards and scored 24 touchdowns over the past two seasons. But Botley has proved equally adept on the volleyball court. He was an All-City Section 3-A Division selection last season--only his second year playing volleyball--and led the Parrots to the City semifinals.
"He's got just a pure vertical leap," said Coach John Ford, who measured it at 37 1/2 inches.