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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

El Camino Real Hits Stride at Kennedy

Baseball: Birkins bests Cassel and Conquistadores cruise, 12-1, in a Northwest Valley Conference game.

April 15, 1998|MICHAEL LAZARUS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

GRANADA HILLS — Just how big a step forward the El Camino Real High baseball team took Tuesday afternoon won't be known for another six weeks.

But if the Conquistadores make another run at the City Section championship, mark down their 12-1 victory over Kennedy as the possible turning point.

Talented but inexperienced and facing the burden of heavy expectations as defending City champions, El Camino Real played its best game of the year against the host Golden Cougars in a Northwest Valley Conference game shortened to six innings because of the 10-run rule.

Left-handed senior Kurt Birkins (5-0) held Kennedy, which had won 12 of its past 13 games, to five hits and struck out 10 batters, all in the first five innings. In his past three games, Birkins has given up two runs.

And after Woody Cliffords hit a two-run single off Jack Cassel in the third inning, the Conquistadores began teeing off the Kennedy ace.

Mike Leduc had a two-run home run in the fifth and Brian Somoza slugged a three-run shot in the sixth. El Camino Real (7-6, 5-1) scored five runs in each inning.

"After [Cliffords'] hit, we just were kind of out of it," Cassel said. "We just didn't feel like we were going to win. I hope we got that out of our system."

Cassel (4-2), who entered the game with a 1.93 earned-run average, gave up 12 earned runs, walked nine and struck out two. He made 120 pitches.

The Golden Cougars (15-4, 5-2) didn't have much in relief. Top reliever Tim Arroyo sat out the game with a leg injury.

But nothing apparently was going to stop the Conquistadores. Although El Camino Real trails front-runner Chatsworth by only a half-game in the West Valley League, the season has been a struggle.

The Conquistadores, who start three players who were on the junior varsity last season, started the season 1-4 in the San Fernando Valley Invitational and lost two more games in the Kennedy tournament last week. Even the Conquistadores' conference record is a bit misleading. They were losing badly to San Fernando two weeks ago before a sudden rainstorm halted the game.

"Our first game was against Monroe and all those scouts were out there to watch [Monroe pitcher] John Ennis," sophomore third baseman Conor Jackson said. "It was kind of different for us."

Some of those former junior varsity players are starting to mature. Jackson had three hits against Kennedy, raising his average to .400 and Leduc, a sophomore catcher, is batting .385.

"This will be a big win until we get off the bus at school," said Mike Maio, El Camino Real's coach.

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