Sylmar High third baseman Chris Ruley is tall, burly and looks like a throwback player. Even more so, now that he uses a wooden bat.
After experimenting with it in practices and games, Ruley decided to use his 34 1/2-ounce Louisville Slugger full time in a game against Reseda last week. The wood rewarded him with two hits in three at-bats, raising his batting average to .306.
Nearly all high school players use aluminum bats.
"The wood has been feeling good in my hands in practice," Ruley said. "I don't lose much pop. I'm getting good power off of it. And my teammates feel I hit with the wood better."
One drawback, however, is that wood cracks. Ruley chipped his bat against Reseda, but said he will patch it up.
Disputed victory: Some of the most-heated action Saturday night at the Saugus Speedway took place after the checkered flag in the Street Stock races.
As Mike Price and Greg Bratschie entered the final lap, a three-car pileup forced Price high on the turn. Bratschie elected to go low and drove on the edge of the infield, narrowly missing several cars and passing Price during a yellow flag to win the race.
Price protested, claiming Bratschie should have been penalized for driving on the infield, but racing stewards upheld the result.
The decision didn't sit well with members of Price's pit crew, who angrily hurled insults at Bratschie.
Coming back: The anticipated return of Canyon High shortstop Crystl Bustos, The Times' Valley player of the year last season, will take place when the Cowboys visit Hart in a Foothill League softball game April 20. She has not played this season because of academic ineligibility.
Expect Bustos, who batted .573 with 10 home runs, 27 runs batted in and 31 stolen bases last season, to add another dimension to her game: leadership. The senior has spent her varsity exile as an assistant coach for the Canyon junior varsity.
"I've learned a lot of what coaches go through," Bustos said. "It was a good experience. I can see both sides now. When my teammates mess up now, I might have to tell them something."
Better days: Bell-Jeff has won two baseball league titles in the 50-year history of the school. But after finishing 9-13-1 last season to extend a string of futility that dates several years, the Guards (9-4, 6-1) are contenders in the Sante Fe League.
Second-year Coach Craig Sherwood, a former Crespi assistant, got a number of Bell-Jeff players involved in summer leagues and credits the added experience for the team's turnaround.
"We were overmatched against a lot of the teams we played in the summer," said Sherwood, whose varsity is down to 13 players and whose junior varsity began the season with only two players. "We lost almost every game but we continued to get better. Being around better baseball really helped and our kids developed a great attitude."
The Guards also developed at the plate. Nos. 3 through 5 hitters John Pawlik (.462), David Quintero (.533) and David Matekel (.455) have helped boost Bell-Jeff's team batting average to .357.
Bad vibes: Excuse Cal Lutheran softball assistant coach Jason Wilson if he was a little queasy when he showed up for the UC San Diego tournament last week.
Wilson, the team's outfield coach, was a member of the Cal Lutheran baseball team that last spring blew a two-game lead at UC San Diego in the best-of-five NCAA Division III West Regional. And the memories haven't faded.
"I hate this place," he said.
King for a day: Francisco Sierra made the most of his first start Monday.
The senior catcher for San Fernando High had two hits and four RBIs to help the Tigers beat Van Nuys, 16-3, in pool play of the Birmingham tournament.
"We try to give everyone a chance to play in these tournaments," San Fernando Coach Dan Heim said. "He took advantage."
Alemany High, leading the Mission League baseball standings, is not much for opportunism. The Indians (8-3, 6-0) have stolen only 13 bases.
Said Coach Tim Browne: "We're a good Catholic school; we don't steal."
La Reina pitcher Jennifer Baltruzak has been untouchable in Tri-Valley League play. Baltruzak, a junior, has struck out 30, walked one and not allowed an earned run in 21 innings.
"She's been extremely dominant," Coach Don Hyatt said. Baltruzak is 6-4 with an 0.71 earned-run average this season for the Regals (9-5, 3-0).
Poly's baseball team is finally getting its act together at 8-4. But its slow start and shoddy fielding have gotten to Coach Chuck Schwal. The Parrots have committed 37 errors in 12 games, including 22 in their first five.
Hoping to shore up the defense, Schwal juggled his lineup. Despite a .500 average and nine RBIs, shortstop Jose Soto was a casualty because of his .741 fielding average.
A dismal 4-9 season for Grant High's baseball team was punctuated Monday by a 19-3 loss to Granada Hills. But senior outfielder Walter Rios remains a bright spot.
Rios is batting .513 with five doubles, three triples, a home run and 18 runs batted in. Where would the Lancers be without him?
"We'd be in serious trouble," said Coach Jeremy Lawrence.
Things to Do
The NASCAR SuperTruck series visits Saugus Speedway Saturday night at 7 p.m. The 200-lap event features Ron Hornaday Jr. driving the Dale Earnhardt-owned pickup truck.
Hornaday, a former driver from the Saugus circuit, has won both SuperTruck races this season. TNN will provide live coverage of the event.
Compiled by Rob Fernas. Contributing: Jeff Fletcher, Dana Haddad, Vince Kowalick, Michael Lazarus, Paige Leech, Bryan Rodgers, Tris Wykes.