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1998 BASEBALL PREVIEW

Empire League

March 03, 1998

* Century: 5-19, 2-13 in 1997. Coach: Nate Guerriero (second year, 5-19). Prospects: Guerriero found out last year just how much rebuilding needs to be done at Century. It will probably take a couple frosh/sop and junior varsity teams worth of players to learn Guerriero's system before the Centurions are contenders. To make matters worse, Guerriero lost his No. 3 hitter, Marco Encinas, when he was struck by a batted ball in the head and sustained a fractured skull. He is not expected back until mid-March by the earliest. Until then, the Centurions will make due with what they have, led by junior pitcher Brian Cortes (4.35 ERA) and junior outfielder Omar Herrera (.272).

* Cypress: 15-8-2, 11-4 in 1997. Coach: Mark Steinert (fifth year, 54-43-4). Prospects: Cypress waged a spirited battle with El Dorado last year for the league title, getting edged by a single game. Although not as strong this season, the Centurions plan on making it a tight race again. Steinert has a strong nucleus, including all-league catcher Matt Gay (.397, four home runs), second-team pitcher/outfielder Jason Pushckor (.400) and second-team pitcher Joe Granados (five saves). What Cypress lacks is a starting shortstop.

* El Dorado: 23-5, 12-3 in 1997. Coach: Steve Gullotti (18th year, 310-139). Prospects: The Golden Hawks had a better year than expected last season because they had a dominant pitcher in Times all-county second-teamer Jordan DeJong (9-1, 1.81) and a gritty, everyday lineup that evolved from a group of unknown players. There is plenty left for another run at the league title. Among the six returning starters are all-league outfielder Tyler Sporrer (.367, 16 RBIs), all-league infielder/pitcher E.J. Ochoa (.327, 3-2), second-team all-league outfielder Ryan Ralph (.315, 22 RBIs) and pitchers Scott Hazen (6-0, 1.44) and J.P. Ford (3-1, 1.93). El Dorado lacks speed but will score runs. And even if they still don't have that many household names, the Hawks will again be tough on the field.

* Katella: 14-12, 6-9 in 1997. Coach: Tim McMenamin (14th year, 204-139-1). Prospects: Katella's fall into fifth place, after winning three consecutive league titles, last year was a bit of a surprise. It's doubtful McMenamin has enough to catch El Dorado, but the playoffs are definitely within reach. Returning this season are all-league shortstop/pitcher Mike Martinez (.313, five home runs), second team all-league infielder Tony Alcantar (.370), and Aaron Avina, whom McMenamin calls "the best defensive second baseman in the county." McMenamin also expects pitchers Steve Barr and Scott Fraser, up from the junior varsity, to improve the pitching staff.

* Kennedy: 14-12, 7-8 in 1997. Coach: Chris Pascal (13th year, 183-141-2). Prospects: The Fighting Irish tied Loara for third last year, but lost two of three to the Saxons; in both games Kennedy led late but lost in extra innings. Pascal starts out with all-league pitcher Gabe Roman (7-2, 1.48) but is searching for a dependable No .2 starter. Infielder Jack Tucker (.386, one home run, 17 RBIs) is proven at the plate, but Adam LaMendola (.228, one home run, 11 RBIs) still has something to prove.

* Loara: 11-14, 7-8 in 1997. Coach: Dave Lappin (sixth year, 56-68). Prospects: On paper it looks as if it will be a long season at Loara. Most of Lappin's key graduation losses were to the pitching staff. This will further burden an offense that features all-league outfielder Michael Morales (.310, 10 steals) and infielder Ryan Banes (.318, 15 RBIs). If the Saxons are not overwhelmed in nonleague play, they could again steal the third playoff spot. If they are, then the best Loara can expect is to spoil someone else's postseason plans.

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