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Sports : San Gabriel Advances to Semifinals of Ruth Series

August 18, 1994|JEFF RILEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

CARMEL, Ind. — San Gabriel entered the 16-year-old Babe Ruth World Series as one of two teams favored to win the national title.

And after only two games, the team has proven it's more than worthy of such acclaim.

On Tuesday, San Gabriel turned in its second consecutive convincing win with a 5-0 victory over Indianola, Iowa. Winning pitcher Steve Rodriguez gave up only a sixth-inning single. Once again, San Gabriel (10-1) showcased an impressive array of stingy pitching and explosive hitting.

Those talents will be tested in a championship semifinal game tonight when San Gabriel meets Marietta, Ga., in a matchup of unbeaten teams. Although Marietta's 74-6 season record is unofficial, it has outscored its two tournament opponents, 13-3.

San Gabriel, which has won 10 consecutive games, has produced 18 runs and 20 hits in two tournament games. Brian Llibre, who is five for seven, has hit two home runs and driven in five runs.

San Gabriel's pitching has also impressed the 29,121 fans who have turned out for 12 games. Eric Valenzuela and Rodriguez each earned complete-game victories, combining to give up only one run and six hits in 14 innings. They struck out 16 and walked two.

The loser drops to the consolation bracket for a 5 p.m. game Friday.

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San Gabriel's powerful hitting and pitching made a strong impression on the fans at the tournament.

But Coach Victor Becerra says San Gabriel's showing paled in comparison to the hoopla of pre-tournament festivities, which left his team wide-eyed.

Yes, Becerra was pleased when San Gabriel scored 10 runs with two outs in the second inning and hit three home runs en route to a 13-1 win over Cincinnati in a first-round game Sunday. Brian Llibre, Juaquin Villalobos and Valenzuela homered.

But Becerra and his players were eager to talk about the gala surrounding the nine-team, double-elimination tournament. Each team was escorted by tournament princesses during a limousine ride from the Indianapolis Airport. The coaches and players were treated to an elegant banquet and a parade that included Indy 500 floats and former Cincinnati Reds outfielder George Foster.

If that's wasn't enough, the players will walk away with equipment bags full of corporate-donated goodies.

"This has been something else," Becerra said. "It's unbelievable what they've done for us. It's tremendous, and our kids really appreciate it."

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Plenty of outstanding pitching performances were turned in throughout the first round, but perhaps none was finer than that provided by Valenzuela in the 13-1 win over Cincinnati.

Valenzuela, a stocky right-hander, went the distance and gave up only five hits. He struck out five of the first six hitters, finished with eight strikeouts and didn't walk a batter.

Perhaps most impressive was that his fastball reached 87 miles per hour on radar guns.

"We're a good-hitting team, but we don't feel too bad getting shut down by a pitcher with his kind of stuff," Cincinnati Coach Frank Nesi said. "Our kids just haven't seen a pitcher of his caliber. Our pitching machine doesn't even have his kind of stuff."

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San Gabriel's pitching suffered a blow three weeks ago when Ray Jimenez broke a finger. Jimenez, who no-hit Brawley and struck out 11 in a state tournament game, isn't part of San Gabriel's World Series roster.

"It hurts, especially if we fall into the losers' bracket," Becerra said. "That's when your pitching can really get depleted quickly. So that's another reason to stay out of the losers' bracket."

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