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Valley / Ventura County Sports | ERIC SONDHEIMER

These Guys Aren't Second Best

April 21, 1999|ERIC SONDHEIMER

Part of high school baseball strategy dictates that the best athlete on a team usually plays shortstop and the least imposing player is deposited at second base.

So how come at midseason, it's the unsung second basemen who are piling up the runs batted in and earning rave reviews for their defensive wizardry?

Few infielders are performing better than junior second basemen Brendan Ryan of Notre Dame High and Mark McCauley of Crescenta Valley. Neither has committed an error and both have become top hitters for teams that aspire to win the Southern Section Division I championship.

Ryan causes fans to shake their heads in wonderment by the way he effortlessly makes the pivot on double plays.

Ryan became such a powerful hitter this season that Coach Tom Dill of Notre Dame moved him to cleanup in the batting order.

"It's pretty weird," Ryan said. "I haven't batted cleanup since I was 8 or 9."

Ryan leads Notre Dame with a .477 batting average, including 20 RBIs.

McCauley is equal to Ryan in fielding. In three years of varsity ball, he has committed only five errors.

"Mark's got to be one of the best infielders in Southern California," said Coach Phil Torres of Crescenta Valley.

As the team's leadoff hitter since his freshman season, McCauley has helped the Falcons to a 54-12-1 record, two Pacific League titles and a Division I championship.

"He'll be some pitcher's best friend in college," Torres said. "Mark's the kind of guy you have to see five, six games in a row to appreciate the things he does."

There are other second basemen proving their worth. Junior Felipe Tetelboin of Grant had a 16-game hitting streak and is batting .522 with six home runs. Junior John Santor of Highland is batting .520 with 11 doubles and 30 RBIs. Senior Juan Guerrero of Poly ranks third in the City Section with 29 RBIs.

While second basemen have gained respect, at midseason it remains the year of the pitcher.

Crescenta Valley fans ought to be shouting, "You the man!" every time senior left-hander Jordan Olson takes the mound. He's that good.

Olson is 6-0 with 90 strikeouts in 44 2/3 innings and a 0.78 earned-run average. In two seasons, he's 17-1 with 192 strikeouts in 120 innings and a 0.87 ERA. See what happens when you have the region's best curveball?

Nothing rattles the laid-back Olson, who spent Saturday at his second-favorite spot next to the pitcher's mound--the beach. He thought he would have the day off after pitching six shutout innings Friday night, so he got a tan and showed up for the Babe Herman tournament final ready to relax on the bench.

Suddenly, it's the bottom of the seventh inning, Crescenta Valley is clinging to an 11-9 lead and the Falcons need a pitcher to come in with the bases loaded and one out. Enter Olson, who gets a strikeout and pop out.

Then he heads off into the night in his shorts and T-shirt. Another game, another memorable moment in the life of an 18-year-old pitching machine.

As impressive as Olson has been, he isn't the only dominant pitcher in the region. Phillip Polanco of Notre Dame is 7-0 and leads the region with a 0.70 ERA. Matt Harrington of Palmdale, a junior right-hander, is 5-1 and gained everyone's attention by striking out 16 against Royal, arguably the region's best-hitting team.

Kameron Loe of Granada Hills, a 6-7 senior, came close to pulling off the improbable--beating Chatsworth and El Camino Real in consecutive starts. He lost to the Chancellors, 6-5, then defeated the Conquistadores, 2-1.

Loe and Scott Rice, a senior left-hander from Royal, have become the region's top two professional prospects. Rice, in particular, has made the kind of improvement that could make his scholarship to Arkansas moot.

Other notable performers:

* Shortstop Jamie Mah of Sylmar and catcher Jose Carrillo of Birmingham have made the biggest impact among freshmen. Mah is hitting .444 with six errors; Carrillo is batting .466 with 11 doubles.

* Sophomore pitchers Jason Urquidez of Chaminade and Chris Seddon of Canyon have climbed to the top of their class.

* Senior outfielders Michael Falco of Agoura, bound for Pepperdine, and Chris Testa of Palmdale, headed for Cal State Northridge, have each hit eight home runs and figure to be drafted in June.

One question unanswered at midseason: Who's going to win the City championship?

Chatsworth, El Camino Real, Granada Hills and Sylmar remain the primary contenders from the Valley.

El Camino Real, two-time defending City champion, is awaiting the return of junior infielder John Voita, who injured his right shoulder in the opening game, underwent surgery and is expected back in early May. Once he returns and takes over at third base, strengthening the team defensively, beware.

*

Eric Sondheimer's local column appears Wednesday and Sunday. He can be reached at (818) 772-3422.

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