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1998 BASEBALL PREVIEW

Sunset League

March 03, 1998

* Edison: 9-16, 4-11 in 1997. Coach: Tom Duggan (third year, 19-31). Prospects: It is a testament to the league's strength that a team that hits like the Chargers couldn't bat its way out of fifth place last season. A good portion of the Edison lumber company graduated, but some big chunks remain. All-league pick Tony Cappuccilli (.372, nine home runs, 29 RBIs) is ready to take his place among the county's best slugging catchers, and outfielder Brian Campbell (.300, two triples, 10 RBIs) is decent contact hitter. The other two returning starters are pitchers, second-team all-leaguer Dale Thayer (5-6. 4.00) and Andrew Rodriguez (2-3, 3.87). The Chargers' pitching is reported to be improved. If that's true, and the Chargers hit well again, Edison will be moving up.

* Esperanza: 25-5, 12-3 in 1997. Coach: Mike Curran (18th year, 307-149). Prospects: It was a banner 1997 for the Aztecs, who won the Newport Elks and National Classic baseball tournaments and their first Division I title since 1993. Curran also earned his 400th career victory. But 17 seniors graduated. All-league pitcher Matt Colin (5-2, 2.82) and second-team third baseman Josh Shaffer (.333) are the only returning starters. Curran will have to spend most of the nonleague games finding out who can play and who can't.

* Fountain Valley: 17-10, 11-4 in 1997. Coach: Ron Lu Ruffa (10th year, 186-80). Prospects: The Barons had the kind of year in 1997 that Esperanza had in 1996--injuries robbed the lineup of continuity, spotty pitching and the inability to get the key hit or out when needed. Fountain Valley, with five returning starters, expects to be back in full force. But there are some ifs. La Ruffa--who has won six league titles and two Division I championships in the 1990s--will have to replace graduated Ryan Clark (.422, six home runs, 38 RBI) in the middle of the lineup as well as Kameron Nielsen (8-2, 1.81) on the mound. So if pitchers Brian Anderson and C.J. Wilson emerge, and if catcher Brandon Cox and first baseman Nick Stavada hit well, the Barons definitely are back.

* Huntington Beach: 12-14, 6-9 in 1997. Coach: Mike Dodd (18th year, 261-179). Prospects: A team to watch. The Oilers have gone two seasons without making the playoffs, and Dodd does not want the streak to continue. The biggest commodity Huntington Beach has is pitching--returning starters Nate Beucler (4-5) and Jeff Lineberger (4-3), and others from last year's junior varsity. At present the offense looks slight; Dodd has no returning .300 hitters. But if the pitching has matured, Huntington Beach won't need too many runs to be effective.

* Los Alamitos: 7-18, 3-12 in 1997. Coach: John Bryant (fifth year, 50-53). Prospects: After making the playoffs in 1996, Bryant expected better things last year. Instead, the 1997 season was a disaster; the Griffins never got in synch. It appears this year Bryant is starting over. All-league third baseman Blair Havens is the lone returning starter. Three pitchers are among the other five returning players.

* Marina: 17-11, 9-6 in 1997. Coach: Paul Renfrow (15th year, 172-194-2). Prospects: The Vikings have been trying to loosen the grip Esperanza and Fountain Valley have had on the league title the past three years. They will have another good shot this year. Marina will be deep, with 10 returning lettermen and four returning starters. Renfrow can build the pitching staff around second-team all-league pick Adam La France (6-4, 3.07), and he expects the defense to be sound. The offense, led by shortstop Jonathan Burns (.375), outfielder Joey Ammirato (.333) and outfielder/pitcher Derek Amundson (.323), is questionable. If it becomes dependable, Marina's breakthrough season is within reach.

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