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1997 BASEBALL PREVIEW

Century League

March 04, 1997|MIKE TERRY

Canyon: 27-3, 13-2 in 1996. Coach: Mike Najera (fifth year, 84-24). Prospects: The county's winningest team and lone section champion (Division II) has a new challenge. USA Today anointed Canyon as No. 1 in its preseason poll, and there will a handful of contenders to unseat the Comanches, including Mater Dei and Capistrano Valley, when Canyon plays in the National Classic tournament in Orange County during Spring break. No matter, this is a deep squad. The lineup starts with Times all-county utility player Jeff Leuenberger, who was 13-2, 1.78 earned-run average and 106 strikeouts as a pitcher while batting .473 with 28 RBIs. It also includes all-county second-team utility player Mike Tomarelli (.478, four homers, 33 RBIs) and ends with infielder/designated hitter Brandon Smith, who drove in 14 runs in the five playoff games.

El Modena: 5-20, 3-12 in 1996. Coach: Tom Kostic (third year, 20-31). Prospects: El Modena might not have enough to take the league title away from Canyon, but the Vanguards figure to be much improved after taking their lumps last year. Kostic saw some rewards for his patience. There was infielder Matt Garcia (.368) getting 14 hits in 12 varsity games. All-league picks infielder Todd Johnson (.408, 29 hits) and outfielder Mike Walters (.388, 15 RBIs) got better as the season progressed. Unfortunately the pitching staff this season has no varsity experience. That could keep El Modena out of the league's upper echelon.

Foothill: 16-8, 9-6 in 1995-96. Coach: Vince Brown (second year, 16-8). Prospects: Brown had a somewhat triumphant return to coaching, tying Villa Park for second in league. Now he has to work on getting the Knights their first league title since 1989. He shouldn't expect it this year unless Canyon or Villa Park collapses. But with 11 returning players, including all-leaguers infielder/pitcher Tyler Lang (.500, one homer, 18 RBIs) and outfielder Keton Quigley (.423, 22 RBIs), Foothill has the talent to be second by itself.

Orange: 15-14, 8-7 in 1996. Coach: Ed Howard (ninth year, 113-93). Prospects: The Panthers expected to be better than they turned out to be last year. Now Howard--with five returning starters--is not sure what to expect. Howard believes Orange's strengths are defense and pitching, led by second-team all-league pitcher James Starr (who also hit four homers) and infielder/pitcher Brett Sewell. Where the offense will come from is a different matter. And that makes it hard to expect Orange being among the league's top three.

Santa Ana Valley: 8-17, 5-10 in 1996. Coach: Leon Smith (third year, 19-31). Prospects: Perhaps the league's most intriguing team. After a couple of lean years, the Falcons are senior dominated and ready to excel. All-league selection outfielder Jesse Gomez (.385), and second-team picks infielder Joe Burborn (.340) and utility man Danny Montoya (.357) guide the offense. Rolando Ramirez (2.97 ERA) plans to be among the county pitching leaders. Should the Falcons get off to a good start, they could be soaring by league play.

Villa Park: 16-7, 9-6 in 1995-96. Coach: Dave Ochoa (first year). Prospects: The Spartans were surprised by the abrupt decision of Coach Brian Corntassel to leave after one season. On the plus side, Ochoa returns to coaching after a seven-year absence. He has a veteran team--only five of the 17 roster players are not seniors. The talent includes all-league infielders Matt Boone (.390) and Evan McGinnis (.425, 18 RBIs), and pitcher Jason Spainhower (5-3, 2.19 ERA, 40 strikeouts). Ochoa is starting out cautious, not predicting any league success until he sees what he has. From this vantage point, the view looks very good.

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