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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | THE HIGH SCHOOLS

Record Book Is Small World

May 11, 2000|STEVE HENSON

Don't take anything away from Tim Thompson.

The pitcher with a no-frills delivery and no-nonsense countenance has compiled the most gaudy four-year won-loss record in state history.

Thompson notched his 52nd career victory Wednesday when Grace Brethren High defeated Faith Baptist, 10-0, in five innings, breaking the nearly 30-year-old state record of Scott McGregor of El Segundo.

Yes, it's the same McGregor who was a first-round draft pick and went on to enjoy a 12-year career with the Baltimore Orioles, pitching in two World Series.

You aren't alone if Grace Brethren doesn't sound familiar. It is a private school of about 170 students tucked in a residential Simi Valley neighborhood.

Its baseball team competes where it should, in Division VI, the Southern Section's lowest. The Lancers won the last two Division VI championships and are favored again largely because of their record-setting right-hander.

Don't take anything away from Tim Thompson.

As consistent as he is sturdy, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound senior with thick legs and a barrel chest is 13-2. He was 13-3 last season, 14-0 in 1998 and 12-2 as a freshman in 1997. Thompson is believed the first state pitcher to win more than 10 games in four consecutive seasons.

The teams Thompson beat are mostly from schools as small as his own. Fair enough. But breaking McGregor's record prompts a suggestion: Divide the record book into two categories--one for large schools, another for small schools.

Thompson isn't the first small schools player to hold a prestigious state mark. And he isn't the first to surpass someone whose accomplishments came against stronger competition.

Tum Ratanatraiphob had 125 stolen bases from 1988-91. Despite the letters in his name, he was no 4-A Division player. Ratanatraiphob played for tiny Northridge Highland Hall, which during the same stretch produced Jakob Jensen, who set a state record (since broken) with 168 career hits.

Jensen deprived Rio Mesa slugger Dmitri Young from holding the record. Young had 159 hits from '88-91, surpassing the previous mark by nine, but Jensen was always a few hits ahead of him.

Young, of course, now bangs out hits for the Cincinnati Reds. Jensen lives in his native Denmark, presumably occupied by something other than baseball.

Ricky Eisenberg of Canoga Park Coutin, which has a high school enrollment of 85, holds the state record for batting with a .761 average in 1996, an achievement few noticed. His name was mentioned a grand total of once in The Times that season and he went on to become a light-hitting reserve at Valley College.

The top 10 state leaders in batting average are from small schools. Many would have been relegated to holding the clipboard for the junior varsity coach at a large school. The student populations of Coutin and Grace Brethren combined would barely fill a science lab on a City Section campus.

By separating small and large schools in the record book, the mark for highest batting average would be reclaimed by Lanell Culver of Palmdale, who hit .641 in 1981. Currently, he ranks No. 11.

But don't take anything away from Tim Thompson.

He's never pretended to be Scott McGregor, whose El Segundo teammates included Hall-of-Famer George Brett and six other players who played professionally or at the Division I college level.

"People say Grace is a joke, but we let our athletic ability do the talking," Thompson said. "We may not win when we play a large school, but we can compete. And at our level, we've done fine."

Last month, Thompson held Oxnard, a Division I school with an 18-6 record, scoreless for four innings before giving up four runs in the fifth inning of a 5-2 loss. And he had pitched seven innings two days earlier.

His fastball is consistently around 82 mph, he has command of his off-speed pitches and possesses a good feel for pitching. Thompson is profoundly competitive; nobody posts 52 victories without possessing a will to win.

Cal Lutheran, one of the nation's top Division III programs, wants him, and the interest is reciprocated. Thompson is content in a small school environment.

"He could pitch at a large high school," Cal Lutheran Coach Marty Slimak said. "Tim is a very good pitcher who will have a lot of success in college."

But should Thompson replace McGregor in the state record book?

McGregor was 17-2 as a senior in 1972 and 18-1 as a junior when El Segundo won the Southern Section 3-A championship, the equivalent of Division II today. That team is recognized as one of the best ever in the Southland.

There's more. McGregor was 13-3 as a sophomore, 3-0 as a freshman and had a career earned-run average of 0.65. He shares a state record of nine shutouts in one season and had six shutouts in a row.

"That was before scouts had radar guns, but Scott threw harder in high school than he did in the major leagues," said John Stevenson, who is in his 41st season as coach at El Segundo and has more than 850 career victories, far and away the most in state history.

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