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Los Angeles Times 1996 All-Valley Softball Team | COACH
OF THE YEAR

Hilton Like a Psychologist to Talented Saugus Players

June 05, 1996|DANA HADDAD

With the amount of softball talent that has come to his school, Saugus High Coach Ron Hilton could probably have gotten by doing very little.

In fact, nobody would have complained if Hilton's sole task for each game was getting the equipment into the dugout and taking seat on the bench.

"They come to me so talented," Hilton said. "Four or five of them have their own private coaches. And they're paying for it."

Hilton has led the Centurions to more than 200 victories and 11 playoff appearances in 13 seasons, including the Southern Section Division II Championship this year.

Along the way, he has altered his style. He once took an all-knowing approach to his job, but now he lets his players use their own techniques and mental approaches.

"Early in my career, it was my way or the highway," he said, "But I've mellowed so much."

Hilton has become more of a team psychologist after dissension tore apart the most talented team in Saugus history in 1995. The top-seeded Centurions lost in the second round of the playoffs that season.

Yet six players from that team are certain to wind up with scholarships to Division I schools.

Kelli Kranz (Southwest Texas) and Jeanine Giordano (Washington) have already moved to college and seniors Jamie Gillies (Michigan) and Chris Gill (Arizona State) have signed letters of intent. Senior Jill Passafiume has received an offer from Louisiana State and junior Nicole Giordano can choose her college after leading the region in batting and stolen bases for the second year in a row.

Giving partial credit to assistants Rich Perez, Samantha Ford Dusenberry and Heather Henry--as well as a new, laid-back attitude--Hilton took a team with less talent farther.

"He's really mellowed since my freshman year," Gillies said. "He's positive and he's kept us together as a team."

Said Giordano: "He still yells, don't get me wrong. But he's real encouraging. He knows I play my best when I'm relaxed and having fun."

Although Hilton's teams have never won a section championship, Saugus has captured five league titles, including three in a row in the Foothill League.

"I knew we'd be good but we played better as a team this year than in any of the previous four years," Hilton said.

Credit Hilton, who, according to Gillies, has counseled his players off the field this year as well.

But Hilton, stealing a line from Neils Ludlow, who has coached El Camino Real to eight City Section titles, doesn't want the credit.

"Neils Ludlow said it's 90% talent, 5% coaching and 5% luck," Hilton said. "I'm not sure about the coaching part."

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