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Injury Behind Him, Nista Looking Ahead


LAGUNA HILLS — The discomfort in Brett Nista's right shoulder came to light his sophomore year during a stretch in which he was named the starting pitcher the last six games of the season.

It bothered him every time he lifted his right hand above his head, but it was nothing a handful of deep freeze medication couldn't numb.

He continued playing through the summer and into his junior year at Laguna Hills High School, where he hid his ailment by switching to first base.

It was hard to believe Nista was playing hurt. After all, he hit .430 with 11 home runs, 37 runs scored and 28 runs batted in during the regular season, leading the Hawks to their fifth consecutive Pacific Coast League title.

But after a two-week trip to San Antonio to play in the Olympic Festival with the top prospects in the country, Nista passed on a chance to join the national team and opted for surgery.

"They shaved the bone," Nista said. "I had a hook in my shoulder bone and it was causing tendinitis."

The discomfort in his shoulder is gone now, and Nista said his arm has never felt better.

This season he'll move back to shortstop, where he'll anchor one of the best infields in the county.

"I couldn't wait to get started," he said. "This is going to be our best season yet. This whole school is into it. Signs are going up. It's never been like this before."

There's no hiding his enthusiasm.

Nista's impressive junior year is showing in the number of preseason publications that have ranked him among the nation's best.

Baseball America rates him No. 43 in the nation, though Nista said that figure would be higher if not for his surgery, and he was one of only three Californians selected to the Mizuno preseason All-American team.

But the big story is not what he has done, but what he's about to do.

Nista began the season needing only 33 hits to surpass Tustin's Shawn Green, Orange County's career hit leader with 147. Green, who plays for the Toronto Blue Jays' triple-A team, surpassed former Hawk Chris Scheff in 1991.

Another county record within sights is the career home run record of 22 shared by former Dana Hills player Lance Marks and Andy Ruscitto of Valencia. Nista has 17.

Getting enough quality pitches to swing at would be a problem in most circumstances, but Nista benefits from having two-year all-league designated hitter Ron DeVito hitting behind him in the cleanup spot.

And if a pitcher tries to pitch around Nista and DeVito, all-league second baseman Casey Bennett bats fifth.

An interesting aspect, or terrifying aspect if your team has to play Laguna Hills, are Nista's speed and baserunning skills, his best assets.

Nista admits he could use a steadier glove in the field, but at the same time, he says playing defense is his favorite part of the game.

"I love defense. In fact, I like it more than hitting," he said.

Signed, sealed and ready to be delivered to UCLA upon graduation, Nista passed on some traditional baseball powerhouses in favor of the Bruins.

Louisiana State, the defending NCAA champion, was a candidate, but Nista was worried about the unpredictable weather.

"They tried to tell me it never rains there, but at the same time it was pouring outside," he said. "They even have a slant behind home plate to drain off the rainwater."

Long Beach State invited Nista for an informal visit, but Cal State Fullerton didn't contact him at all.

Other visits to Miami, Arizona and USC were intriguing, but college life in Westwood appeared too good to pass up.

"I wanted the experience of a college environment," he said. "If Miami was in California, I would have gone there."

In addition to the atmosphere, Nista, who has a 3.7 grade-point average, thinks highly of UCLA Coach Gary Adams and the number of former Bruins now playing in the major leagues.

"They put more players in the majors than any other college," Nista said.

With his arm troubles behind him, Nista is glad to be thinking ahead.

1992-93 IN REVIEW


Laguna Hills was again the toast of the PCL, winning its fifth consecutive league title. The Hawks had only two setbacks in league play, including a 4-2 loss to Century late in the season after Laguna Hills had clinched the championship. The Hawks' other loss was their league opener at Laguna Beach, when the Artists rallied on a two-out game-winning home run by Ryan Sauers following a hit batsman and two errors. Sauers also got the victory on the mound. . . . Century had its best season in four years led by Pacific Coast League player of the year Tommy Reimers. . . . The race for third place went down to the wire, with Trabuco Hills slipping into postseason competition by one game. . . . Laguna Beach played the upset role, defeating Laguna Hills and Century, while Costa Mesa struggled through a long season.


League Overall School W L W L Laguna Hills 13 2 17 10 Century 10 4 14 10 Trabuco Hills 8 6 11 11 Estancia 7 7 14 10 Laguna Beach 5 10 10 15 Costa Mesa 0 15 3 19

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