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These Coaches Have a Good Idea : Little League: Baca and Saul of Northridge let players enjoy spotlight on eve of World Series finale against Venezuela.

August 27, 1994|STEVE HENSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Distractions were at a peak for Northridge Little Leaguers as the United States champions began practice Friday.

Television cameras and reporters in large numbers greeted the players, who responded nonchalantly and began stretching and playing catch.

Midway through the workout, Manager Larry Baca gathered the players at the pitcher's mound and reminded them that this practice was special.

"He told us it would be our last workout together, and to enjoy it fully," said Spencer Gordon, the team's right fielder. "Then he thanked us for putting in so much work."

Northridge will face Maracaibo of Venezuela, today at 12:30 p.m. PDT for the World Series championship.

Taking time to thank the players was typical of Baca and his assistant, George Saul. The men have been close friends for years, meeting in the National Guard in the 1960s. They have coached Little League and American Legion teams together for 15 years.

Anyone who has watched them this week would wonder if they have ever raised their voices to a player during that time.

They are appreciated by the players and parents for their low-key approach. The spotlight has consistently been on the players, which is precisely how Baca and Saul want it.

"The kids have done all the work," Baca said. "Not a single player missed a single practice this entire all-star season. That's pretty amazing. I'd tell them to get to practice early to stretch, and you know what, they were all there before I was every day."

The dedication obviously paid off. Northridge (20-1) defeated Springfield, Va., on one-hit shutouts Wednesday and Thursday to win the National championship.

Maracaibo will offer Northridge its most severe test, however. The team is 4-0 is Series play and defeated Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, 10-1, Thursday for the International championship, hitting four home runs in the process.

Cesar Hidalgo, a right-hander who throws harder than any pitcher Northridge has faced, probably will start. In a 4-1 victory over Taiwan on Tuesday, Hidalgo struck out the first 12 batters and finished with 15 strikeouts.

"When I saw him pitch, I said there's no way he's 12 years old," said Matt Cassel, the Northridge first baseman.

But the same could be said of Northridge pitchers Nathaniel Dunlap and Peter Tuber, tall boys with live arms.

Neither of them will start today, however. Although Baca had said Tuber would start, he changed his mind Friday and will go with right-hander Justin Gentile, who defeated Springfield on a one-hitter Wednesday. Tuber will be available in relief.

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