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1997 BASEBALL PREVIEW

Freeway League

March 04, 1997|MIKE TERRY

Buena Park: 10-13-1, 5-9-1 in 1996. Coach: Russ McHale (second year, 10-13-1). Prospects: The Coyotes started the year on a high, winning the North County Classic tournament and looked like a league title threat. But lack of pitching doomed them to a fourth-place finish. Offense will again define Buena Park; what the Coyotes must show is they can win 3-2 as well as 9-8. Among the returning boppers are all-league catcher Cesar Carrillo (.397. seven home runs, 23 runs batted in), infielder Ernesto Jaime (.321, three home runs, 29 runs scored) and two-time all-league infielder Richie Pohle (.432, four home runs, 26 RBIs). Their most experienced pitcher is Daniel Flores (3-5, 2.43, 30 strikeouts, four saves).

Fullerton: 20-6-1, 13-1-1 in 1996. Coach: Marty Berson (second year, 20-6-1). Prospects: Fullerton raced past Sonora last season to win its first league championship since 1993 because the Indians had the county's dominant pitcher in Michael Garner. Garner, The Times' player of the year, pitches for Cal State Fullerton. Some talented seniors, including catcher Manny Ramirez (.434), graduated too, leaving Berson only two returning starters: outfielders Josh Leech (.351, 19 RBIs) and Andy Velasquez (.290, six steals). Pitchers Jeff Cody (1-0, 1.83) and Luke Smude (3-0, 6.30) are back too.

La Habra: 5-19, 2-13 in 1996. Coach: Mate Borgogno (first year). Prospects: Here's hoping Borgogno will be given time to rebuild. No league team was victimized more often than the Highlanders, and the new coach didn't exactly inherit a full cupboard. Among his experienced returners are outfielder David Cosato, pitcher Eric Saul, catcher Paul Summers and infielder Manny Valenzuela. But on a roster full of freshmen and sophomores, La Habra continues to be a work in progress at least one more season.

Sonora: 20-5-1, 12-3 in 1996. Coach: Pat Tellers (seventh year, 77-76-3). Prospects: Sonora expected to repeat as Division II titleholders. There was a lineup that belted a county team-record 43 home runs, an experienced pitching staff and a champion's confidence. But something was missing; the Raiders could not keep Fullerton from winning the league, and then lost in the first round of the playoff. Even with Times all-county first-teamers David Miller and Ryan Owens graduated, Sonora is still fierce with Times all-county second team infielder/pitcher Jeremy Weinberg (8-2 on the mound, .437 with nine home runs, 38 RBIs at the plate) and outfielder Dustin Bower (.407).

Sunny Hills: 12-13, 8-7 in 1996. Coach: Doug Elliott (13th year, 187-132-2). Prospects: Even though they managed a third-place league finish, the Lancers never found a rhythm last season, and they may be no less enigmatic in 1997. Elliott will miss the deep threat of Peter Flores (five homers), but will have speed in infielder Adam Rodriguez, and some punch in outfielders Kevin Ashton and Brad Carmody. The 6-foot-5 Trevor Wilkinsen, a huge prospect at least in height, heads the pitching staff.

Troy: 9-14-2, 3-10-2 in 1996. Coach: Dane Ilertsen (eighth year, 95-80). Prospects: Last year, the Warriors were able to compete with most teams, except in league. This year, Ilertsen wants to be remembered for something other than allowing graduating outfielder Chad Elliott to play all nine positions in one game. With six returning starters, led by outfielder Reggie Dominguez (.338, five steals), infielder Shaun Karlson (.375) and catcher Jim Kennedy (.303), the Warriors have some offense. Like last year, pitching will decide if Troy is in the thick of the league race or is riding another wooden horse.

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