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HIGH SCHOOL BASEBALL

La Quinta Just Squeezing By So Far

March 07, 2000|BEN BOLCH

It would have been easy for a La Quinta team returning no starters and one regular player--who hit .196 last season--to assume the fetal position and concede Friday's season opener to powerful Riverside Poly.

Yet, the Aztecs showed no fear in thrilling one-run victories over the Bears and Lakewood Mayfair last weekend in the North Orange County tournament.

Freshman Ian Kennedy's sacrifice fly in the seventh inning allowed Chris Blanch to score the winning run in La Quinta's 5-4 victory over Poly.

In the second round, Jeff Moscoso's eighth-inning suicide squeeze drove in Jose Castaneda with the winning run in a 4-3 victory over Lakewood Mayfair. Kennedy struck out nine and gave up one run in seven innings.

"We've beat two very good teams by one run," said La Quinta Coach Dave Demarest, whose team is the two-time defending tournament champion. "We're not beating anybody up but we're winning."

The Aztecs (2-0) play host to Temecula Valley (2-0) today at 3 p.m. in the quarterfinal round. The Golden Bears, who have had five players sign with Cal State Fullerton, are one of the top 10 teams in the country, according to USA Today.

"I told the kids we probably wouldn't play anyone as good as Riverside Poly all year and then we turn around and [could] play Temecula Valley," Demarest said.

La Quinta may have caught a break, though. Temecula Valley's No. 2 starting pitcher, Cole Hilt, was tabbed to start today's game but will be unavailable after being ejected Monday from the Golden Bears' 10-1 victory over Paramount.

Demarest said the key to his team's hot start has been the maturity displayed by his young players.

"When you look at the team you couldn't pick out who the freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors are," he said. "The kids all mesh well together.

"We're excited about the young group. "You just want to go out and get better each day, and that's easy for us because we have a new players.

"Still, two one-run victories don't make much of a season. The big key will be the first time things don't go right. We haven't had that loss to see how they react."

HEADS-UP DUO

Mission Viejo boasts two of the headiest players in Orange County in center fielder Paul Whiting and pitcher/first baseman John Hudgins. Whiting was a Wooden Award winner as a 4.84 GPA student with a 1,580 SAT score. Hudgins has a 4.62 GPA to go with a 1,480 SAT and is headed to Stanford.

They can also play a little baseball. Hudgins, a four-year varsity starter, hurled a one-hitter with 11 strikeouts Friday in the Diablos' 1-0 victory over Murietta Valley in the first round of the North Orange County tournament. Whiting hit .304 last season.

"They're both incredible kids," Mission Viejo Coach Chris Ashbach said. "Paul Whiting is probably the hardest-working kid in the classroom and on the field I've been associated with. John's another great kid."

MONEY IN THE BANK

The two most valuable players in this week's Loara Tournament won't just come away with trophies. Each will also receive a $500 college scholarship from SSK The Baseball Company, the glove manufacturer that is sponsoring the 32-team event.

LOOKING AHEAD

Fifth-ranked Villa Park plays surprising University today in a quarterfinal of the Loara tournament, which features seven of the top 10 teams in Orange County. The Trojans toppled No. 1 Fountain Valley and No. 9 Cypress in the first two rounds.

Fourth-ranked Esperanza also plays today, against Calvary Chapel in the Newport Elks bracket of the Foothill Tournament. Second-ranked Mater Dei and No. 10 Capistrano Valley--both of which lost their openers--also play in the Newport Elks bracket. Mater Dei meets Tustin and Capistrano Valley plays Sonora.

Champions will be crowned Saturday in the Costa Mesa, Foothill and Loara tournaments.

If you have an item or idea for the prep baseball report, you can fax us at (714) 966-5663 or e-mail us at ben.bolch@latimes.com

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