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1997 BASEBALL PREVIEW

Empire League

March 04, 1997|MIKE TERRY

Cypress: 19-7, 11-4 in 1996. Coach: Mark Steinert (fifth year, 53-48-2). Prospects: There's no truth to the rumor that the other league coaches made sure three-time Times all-county catcher Bobby Brito was gone by attending his graduation. Nonetheless, one of the county's most decorated hitters has moved on and that leaves a serious hole in the Centurions' lineup. Still, pitching is a strength. Second-team Times all-county right-hander Phillip Seibel (10-2, 1.82 earned-run average, 93 strikeouts), who threw two no-hitters, and all-league infielder Ryan Dinley, who was 4-0 on the mound, are a potent 1-2 combo.

Century: 1-21-1, 0-15 in 1996. Coach: Nate Guerriero (first year). Prospects: How does Guerriero start with his rebuilding program? Does he pump up the nine returning players from last season? Or does he look more to playing untested juniors and sophomores to get them experience? If he opts for the former, Guerriero probably will build around all-leaguer Dave Gomez (.318), an excellent defensive catcher who threw out 63% of the runners attempting to steal. If he opts for the latter, newcomers such as Roger Gomez will be tested early.

El Dorado: 15-12, 10-5 in 1996. Coach: Steve Gullotti (17th year, 287-133). Prospects: There are plenty of teams that would enjoy a 10-5 league record and third-place finish. At El Dorado, that constitutes an off year. You can also bet Gullotti won't forget the first-round 10-2 playoff drubbing laid on by Los Angeles Loyola. Replacing the graduated Craig Patterson (.405) won't be that hard if all-league picks outfielder Brandon Downing (.356, 17 runs batted in) and infielder Jerry Miller (.278, 14 RBIs) continue where they left off. All-league right-hander Jordan DeJong (8-5, 2.88) is the No. 1 starter.

Katella: 21-7, 12-3 in 1996. Coach: Tim McMenamin (13th year, 190-127-1). Prospects: Katella has ruled the league the past three years because McMenamin has been blessed with such outstanding talent as Times all-county right-hander Joe Fraser and outfielder Drake Gustafson. Although they have graduated, the Knights are not suffering. Among the nine returning players are standouts such as all-league picks outfielder/pitcher John Baldridge (.337) and right-hander Keawe Kuehnel (8-3, 1.48 ERA, 36 strikeouts). McMenamin is not predicting a fourth straight league title, but that does not mean it can't happen.

Kennedy: 12-14, 4-11 in 1996. Coach: Chris Pascal (12th year, 169-129-2). Prospects: It's been four years since Kennedy last won a league championship. There are no guarantees this time either. But Kennedy should not stagger through another season like last year, when Pascal was force-feeding varsity experience to the bulk of his 11 returning players. Among those to watch are left-hander George Carralejo, whose 2.08 ERA says more about his ability than his 5-8 record. Pascal needs a little more pop from infielder Jack Tucker (.281, three homers, 16 RBIs) and outfielder Garrett Sabol (.370) for the Irish to end their drought.

Loara: 16-9, 8-7 in 1996. Coach: Dave Lappin (fifth year, 55-45). Prospects: The Saxons were in the thick of the playoff hunt until they were swept late in the season by Katella and faded. Even with only four returning starters, Lappin won't stand for another April meltdown. Among those back for another crack at the playoffs are Carlos Ortiz (.368, five home runs, 23 RBIs), who spent time pitching, catching and at first base, and oufielder Michael Morales (.302). Some are touting a potential top 10 breakthrough for Loara. Lappin would be happy if the league doesn't slip away late again.

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