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BASEBALL PREVIEWS : No Strike in These Leagues : Colleges: East L.A. and LACC move to a tougher conference. Cal State L.A. hopes its pitching can lead it to the playoffs.

March 19, 1995|CHARLES SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The 1995 baseball season is already under way for the area's collegiate baseball teams.

Cal State Los Angeles, East Los Angeles College and Los Angeles City College all look to improve on satisfactory 1994 campaigns.

Of the trio, only East L.A. made the playoffs and the Huskies were bounced in the first round by Cypress--the eventual community college state champion--in double-elimination play.

East L.A. and LACC will be competing in a bigger and better conference this season. The Huskies and Cubs are now members of the newly formatted South Coast Conference.

Their opponents will include Pasadena, L.A. Harbor, Compton (formerly of the Southern California Athletic Conference), Cerritos, Long Beach and Mt. San Jacinto.

East L.A. Coach Al Cone thinks the move is a good one.

"This is definitely a better conference because there are more teams and better quality teams than in the SCAC," Cone said. "It should raise our level of play."

Here is a look at the teams.

Cal State L.A. (22-30): The Golden Eagles failed to make the playoffs last season, finishing third in the California Collegiate Athletic Conference.

Pitching will be Cal State L.A.'s strength this season; it has three experienced starters, led by junior left-hander Robert Berns, 5-5 with a 3.69 ERA as a sophomore.

Joe Verplancke, a 6-foot-2 sophomore, moves into the rotation after splitting time between the mound and the outfield last season. Right-hander John Secoda, who earned Academic All-District honors as a sophomore reliever in 1994, rounds out the starting trio.

The Golden Eagles bullpen, led by lefty Gary Stewart, is much deeper than last year. Stewart, who held opponents to a .262 batting average, struck out 34 batters in 43 innings.

Second baseman Uriel Casillas, arguably the best defensive player on the team, hit .308 in 15 games.

Lincoln High's Lico Erami should provide instant offense; the freshman, who was named to the City Times' first team, hit .477 with three home runs and 13 RBIs for the Tigers.

Erami's teammate at Lincoln, Eddie Chavez, joins him at Cal State L.A.

East L.A. (22-19): The Huskies, who have made the playoffs for four consecutive years, look to advance deeper into the postseason.

As always, East L.A. boasts an array of local high school talent.

Sophomore center fielder Ramon Ruiz, who was named City Times player of the year in 1993 while at Roosevelt, spearheads the Huskies' offensive attack.

Last season, Ruiz hit .333 with 18 stolen bases. Lincoln product Peter Cervantes, who recently signed a letter of intent with Long Beach State, led the Huskies in hitting last season at .380.

Cervantes will also get plenty of mound time this season, although he was 0-3 last season.

Sophomore Alonso Aguilar, a Franklin graduate, was a .280 hitter last season but is batting .417 with two home runs and 13 RBIs in 1995.

At 11-7, East L.A. has excelled defensively. And lefty Cesar Garcia (3-1) has become the ace of the staff, with victories over L.A. Valley, Pierce and Golden West.

"I like our players and the chemistry they have developed," Cone said. "They are very unselfish and hard-working, two things you cannot coach."

LACC (22-14): The Cubs just missed the playoffs after a third-place conference finish. LACC is undermanned this season--losing most of its key players to graduation--and it is showing on the field. LACC has only two wins, but the Cubs have had strong individual performances. Second baseman Adonis Harrison is hitting a team-high .435 and Josh Canale is batting .412.

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