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CITY SECTION BASEBALL NOTEBOOK

Lopez Proves Ready for Big Boys

May 29, 1997

It's common practice for teams to call up several members of the junior varsity squad for the playoffs.

However, it's unusual for any of those players to make more than a token postseason appearance.

Which makes El Camino Real shortstop Jesus Lopez unique.

The sophomore was on the junior varsity team two weeks ago, but Wednesday night he made his third start at shortstop for the Conquistadores in the City Section 4-A Division final at Dodger Stadium.

Lopez beat out incumbent Junior Avina to start in a quarterfinal victory over University.

Lopez made a diving catch to record the final out Tuesday in the Conquistadores' 9-6 semifinal victory over Chatsworth. He made a similar catch Wednesday to end Banning's four-run second inning.

"We've got a motto that every starting job is open in every practice," said El Camino Real assistant Dave Siedelman. "He was one of the best defensive guys on the JV [team] and he's doing a heck of a job up here."

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El Camino Real's appearance at Dodger Stadium was another photo opportunity for the Merchan family.

Joe Merchan, the Conquistador third baseman, is the third member of his family to play for El Camino Real in a City final.

Herman Merchan was the starting second baseman when the Conquistadores lost to Chatsworth in the 1990 title game and Manfred Merchan was a backup third baseman when El Camino Real beat Chatsworth for the 1993 title.

Each time, Carlos and Maria Merchan took photographs of each son on the Dodger Stadium field. The photos are prominently displayed in the family's Canoga Park living room.

"We were so nervous because it was [Joe's] last chance," Maria Merchan said.

Joe Merchan is a big reason why the Conquistadores advanced to the final. He entered the game with a team-leading .487 batting average.

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Merchan isn't the only current Conquistador with family ties to Dodger Stadium appearances.

Joey Maiden, the older brother of junior second baseman Jared Maiden, played second base for El Camino Real championship teams in 1993 and '94.

Jared got an early taste of the big-league stadium experience as the batboy for both title teams.

"I remember it pretty well," Jared Maiden said. "We had a good time checking out the locker rooms and everything. I'm excited to be back."

Freshman catcher Mike Leduc, who was promoted from the junior varsity team, is the younger brother of starting catcher Ray Leduc.

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Nobody could accuse the Conquistadores of being timid. El Camino Real came out in the first inning with aggressive baserunning. Sometimes it worked, as when leadoff hitter Joel Morales went from first to third on a sacrifice bunt.

Sometimes it didn't, as when Merchan overran second base on a single by Kurt Birkins and was tagged out to end the first.

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El Camino Real figures to return one of the top teams in the City Section next year. The Conquistadores lose Merchan, ace Shaun Fishman, three-year starting catcher Leduc and outfielder Morales.

But six players who started the championship game return, including first baseman Woody Cliffords.

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