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VALLEY/VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Harvard-Westlake's New Leaf Blown Away

Baseball: Crescenta Valley delivers another setback as the Wolverines attempt to overcome past.

April 08, 1998|PAIGE A. LEECH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

GLENDALE — The Harvard-Westlake baseball team didn't need to knock off Crescenta Valley in a Babe Herman tournament game Tuesday night to know how far it has come this season.

Sure, a victory over The Times' No. 9 ranked team would have been reason to celebrate, but beating a team as talented and explosive as tradition-rich Crescenta Valley (10-2-1) would be quite a stretch for these Wolverines at this stage in their turnaround season.

Harvard-Westlake learned the hardest way possible, playing their worst game of the year and suffering a 14-0 setback to Crescenta Valley under the lights at Stengel Field. The game was called after five innings because of the state-mandated 10-run rule.

Take away the Falcons' first at-bat, which lasted 30 minutes and netted nine runs on six hits, three errors, a balk and a wild pitch, and Harvard-Westlake might have been able to hang with the Falcons.

"It got to the point where it was pretty funny," Harvard-Westlake Coach Josh Smaler said. "We got thrown off our game a little bit. We just didn't relax and let the game come to us."

But instead of ringing up wins against great baseball teams from much bigger high schools, the Wolverines are finding their victories elsewhere--in their journey and in each other. They are not the most talented bunch to ever grace a diamond, but they certainly play hard and believe they are headed in the right direction.

"You can see in their eyes that they believe they have a chance to win everyday," Smaler said. "We see that we are a team out there."

Harvard-Westlake (6-7), winners of three of their last five, certainly has a new look from previous years. The Wolverines, who had six hits against Crescenta Valley, have already surpassed win totals from the past three seasons.

Before Smaler's arrival in 1997, Harvard-Westlake had won just four games in 1995 and only one game in '96. Last year--Smaler's first--the Wolverines finished 3-16, but won their first Mission League game after a two-year shutout.

"Last year was a real big struggle. We had some stubborn seniors who didn't want to listen," Smaler said. "So we basically focused our energy on the guys who we would have the next year."

Although the Wolverines' focus was a bit fuzzy against Crescenta Valley in the first inning, Smaler's new mindset hasn't been lost on his players. Not in the grand scheme of things.

"Once they started trusting that they could win, they've really taken it and ran," Smaler said. "As a whole, we've been a more focused team. We have a great mix of older kids and the younger kids have just basically followed them. Our [10] seniors have done a great job in laying the foundation for the future."

Smaler, a part-time starter at Cal State Northridge in 1994 and '95, has drawn from his experiences as a player at Northridge and Pierce College to turn Harvard-Westlake around.

"I learned a lot about adversity at Northridge. I was in and out of the lineup at Northridge," Smaler said. "But if I wasn't in the lineup, I was trying to [pick up] pitches for our starters and do things that would help the guys that were playing. When you take that type of attitude to do what you can for the team, you can be successful."

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