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VALLEY/VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS: PREP EXTRA

He's Berry Effective

Crescenta Valley Coach Returns to Where He Began Constructing a Reputation as a Softball Coach Who Can Build a Program

March 31, 1998|DAVE DESMOND | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LA CRESCENTA — It was 38 years ago that Dan Berry was asked to switch to batting left-handed, a move to better utilize the Belmont High track star's speed on Los Angeles-area men's softball diamonds.

Berry, 52, has been a master of the turnaround ever since.

Berry, coach of the Crescenta Valley High softball team, has been making the same suggestion to his own players for four decades.

"About half the girls we've coached, we have suggested that to," Berry said of reversing batting stances.

Berry's "little ball" strategy has helped him turn around several softball programs.

Berry started Crescenta Valley's program in 1983, turned Pierce College into a state power from 1995-97 and was selected last spring to build a program at Mission College.

However, Mission soon decided to scrap its fledgling program, which led to Berry returning to Crescenta Valley, where Alan Eberhart had resigned to focus more on his duties as football coach.

In Berry's first stint with the Falcons, he compiled a 12-year record of 250-41, winning eight Pacific League titles and the Southern Section 3-A Division championship in 1986, the school's only section title in a girls' team sport.

At Pierce, he took over a foundering program and twice in three years led the Brahmas to the state regionals.

"His dedication is unbelievable," said Pat Snickles, Crescenta Valley athletic director. "He's an off-campus coach and he's in my office more than I am."

No players remain from Berry's last Falcon team in 1994, but the current players knew of their new coach before he arrived.

"We knew he started the program here," said senior shortstop Becca Baldridge, a four-year varsity starter. "Thanks to him we have a program here, and he knows his stuff."

Over the years, Crescenta Valley has developed a rivalry with perennial Foothill League champion Saugus.

When Saugus catcher Lauren Blaire was killed in a car accident by a suspected drunken driver earlier this year, Berry was the only opposing coach to send flowers.

"That tells you all you need to know about him right there," Saugus Coach Ron Hilton said.

Crescenta Valley (6-2), ranked No. 5 in the region by The Times, is an excellent bunting team. In two games last week, the Falcons executed successful sacrifice bunts in all eight of their attempts.

"I don't want people to think that all we do is play little ball," Berry said. "But if you have a weakness, little ball will bring it out. Little ball works."

Berry never played baseball in high school because the season conflicted with track and field, where he was a standout in the half-mile.

Men's softball leagues were run when Berry didn't, so he signed up. And he's put his running game into softball ever since.

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