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Garden Grove League

March 04, 1997|MIKE TERRY

Bolsa Grande: 17-5-1, 9-3 in 1996. Coach: Vern Nelson (20th year, 213-235-6). Prospects: Nelson thought last year he was coaching his final season. This year he's making noises that this is the finale. He probably won't leave until the Matadors win a league title again, which hasn't happened since 1983, and gets harder every year with La Quinta in the way. This year, Nelson trots out three all-leaguers in outfielder Adam Corona (.453, 19 runs batted in, 23 runs), infielder Joe Francisco (.432, one homer, 13 RBIs) and outfielder Joel Kusuda (.333) among his six returning starters.

Garden Grove: 12-13, 6-6 in 1996. Coach: Jim Rawls (14th year, 188-142). Prospects: The Argonauts still appear to be a year away. Their best offensive player, outfielder Dennis Garcia (.356, four home runs, 14 RBIs), won't join the team until the wrestling season ends. Pitchers Justin Clarkson (1-2) and Jeff Colton (2-3) have to show they are ready to win on the varsity level. But Garden Grove could be a team that sneaks up and bites those who take them for granted.

La Quinta: 23-7, 11-1 in 1995-96. Coach: Dave Demarest (24th year, 449-160). Prospects: The Aztecs won their fourth consecutive Garden Grove title last year, but were denied a third consecutive Division III banner when champion La Mirada beat them in the semifinals. To no one's surprise, La Quinta has reloaded. Outfielder Jhamal Dawkins (.429, four home runs, 33 RBIs) was a Times first-team Times all-county selection and may not be the Aztecs' best player, if catcher Gerald Laird (.456, three homers, 19 RBIs) has the kind of breakout season Demarest thinks he can.

Los Amigos: 9-14, 3-9 in 1996. Coach: Dave Austin (second year, 9-14). Prospects: The good news is Austin has nine returning players who understand how he likes to play the game and can pass that on to the newcomers. The bad news: The Lobos will still have a difficult time earning their first playoff berth since 1984 unless the pitching can bolster their light-hitting lineup. Second-team all-league pick Greg Madrid (59 strikeouts) must set the tone for the rest of the staff.

Pacifica: 15-10-1, 9-3 in 1996. Coach: Mike Willey (second year, 15-10-1). Prospects: Should La Quinta falter, Pacifica is the team, some say, that will win the league. No doubt the Mariners, with 11 returning players, are strong. All-league infielder Jon Feroglio (.398, 22 RBI), outfielder Paul Tessier (15 steals) and infielder J.D. Stern (.273) key the offense. Lefty Matt Fisher (3-1, 0.62) is the top pitcher, and watch for left-hander Matt Huggett, who was 5-0, 1.43 on the junior varsity. Even if La Quinta plays at its best, Pacifica looms as a genuine threat.

Rancho Alamitos: 5-19, 3-9 in 1996. Coach: Mike Gogan (second year, 5-19). Prospects: Rancho Alamitos moves into the second year of Gogan's rebuilding plan with six returning players (four seniors) and the belief a playoff berth can be theirs. If so, the Vaqueros will need another big season from second-team all-leaguer Tony Serna (.360) and will need to develop a steady pitching staff.

Santiago: 3-19, 1-11 in 1996. Coach: Ralph Draeger (fifth year, 125-122-3). Prospects: The best thing about the Cavaliers' 1996 season is that it ended. This year, with only two returning starters--infielder/pitcher Ray Martinez and infielder Carlos Ramirez--Draeger is not looking for a great leap forward. "The biggest thing we have to do is shake last year's losing attitude," Draeger said. That's a good place to start.

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