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1997 BASEBALL PREVIEW

Pacific Coast League

March 04, 1997|MIKE TERRY

Aliso Niguel: 8-15, 5-10 in 1996. Coach: Mike Chapman (fourth year, 24-22 record). Prospects: The Wolverines were expecting an up-and-down 1996 season because they expected to have to struggle for runs, and that's what they did. Even with seven returning starters, Aliso Niguel again will depend on speed and guile more than muscle. First-team all-league infielder Skip Shumaker (.401) and second-team outfielder Evan Katz will be depended on to jump-start the offense. With the graduation of Scott Fuller (6-6, 2.10, 77 strikeouts), Chapman lacks an experienced pitcher to anchor the rotation. If he doesn't find one, the roller-coaster ride continues.

Costa Mesa: 15-10, 10-5 in 1996. Coach: Doug Deats (fourth year, 35-36). Prospects: Deats is seeking his first league title and this team, which finished tied for second in league last season, may give him a shot at it. But some things will have to happen. The Mustangs will have to be more consistent than they were during the summer--"We had some very good games and some very poor ones," Deats said--and they must find a solid bat besides that of first-team all-league catcher Julius Vasquez (.324). Pitching is also a question with the graduation of Jeremy Starns (7-4, 1.60). Still, this could be a team worth watching when league play begins.

Estancia: 2-22, 2-13 in 1996. Coach: Paul Troxel (ninth year, 108-96). Prospects: The Eagles were on the verge of their first-ever winless season before taking two late league games. And 1997 is starting wobbly; Troxel already has lost four starters, including three pitchers, to "personal problems." But senior right-hander Tom Zenus (2-2, 2.99) is back, and so is left-hander Steve Wilson, who had a decent ERA (3.62) despite an 0-3 mark. With the belief that things can't be that bad again, and if Troxel can find some power in the lineup, Estancia should begin the road to recovery.

Laguna Beach: 8-16, 5-10 in 1996. Coach: Greg Marshall (third year, 10-34). Prospects: The Artists have been where Estancia is headed, improving from two victories in 1995 to eight last year. With five returning starters, led by first-team all-league infielders Justin Berti (.400) and Kraigher O'Keefe (only one error at first base), Marshall hopes he's got enough to battle for a playoff spot. It would be the Artists' first time in postseason play since 1968.

Laguna Hills: 20-6, 13-2 in 1996. Coach: Pete Tereschuk (eighth year, 120-69). Prospects: The Hawks were poised for a strong Division III playoff run after breezing through league, but were ousted in the second round by El Toro. No matter, Laguna Hills should be tough again. Although Times all-county second-team right-hander Tony Milo took 11 wins and 93 strikeouts with him to the pros, Laguna Hills is not lacking in quality. Returning is all-league infielder Tom Banning (eight homers, 24 RBIs) who moves to catcher. All-league infielder Kevin McCaffrey (.395, 33 hits, 19 RBIs) can also handle the bat. All-league right-hander Justin Stanfield (6-1, 2.13, 42 strikeouts) is a capable replacement for Milo.

University: 16-12, 10-5 in 1996. Coach: Chris Conlin (ninth year, 103-90). Prospects: On paper the Trojans look to be a leading challenger to Laguna Hills for the league title. Colin has experienced pitching in all-league second-team pick Mike Gamble (6-3) and the offense--headed by Times all-county first-team outfielder Garrett Atkins (.526, four homers, 28 RBIs) and first-team all-league outfielder Randy Lukasiewicz (.375)--looks strong. The left side of the infield must be replaced; otherwise, University appears to be solid.

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