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An Arms Race in Baseball Playoffs

May 18, 2000|STEVE HENSON

In every sport but baseball, the same lineup takes the field every game.

In every sport but baseball, the team with the best players usually wins.

In every sport but baseball, one position rarely dominates the game.

But the guy in the middle of the diamond looms larger than everyone else. And not just because he's standing on a mound.

This is especially true during the high school baseball playoffs. Upsets regularly occur because a great pitcher on an average team often beats a great team.

Calabasas shocked Westlake in the first round last season behind a stellar performance by right-hander Tony Sulser. Who could be this year's Calabasas?

Start with Oxnard (18-7). Provided he has command of his 92-mph fastball and mixes in a few curveballs, left-hander Matt Merricks can beat any team, including favored Los Alamitos in a Southern Section Division I first-round game Friday.

Merricks, who has 91 strikeouts in 54 innings, beat powerful Camarillo twice this season, although the Scorpions won the Pacific View League title by playing more consistently.

That's why the regular season is different than the playoffs. Oxnard won the battles; Camarillo won the war. Now, one battle is the war.

But don't expect the Yellowjackets to advance too far. Merricks is their only pitcher capable of beating a strong Division I opponent.

Teams need two or three strong pitchers for a legitimate chance at a championship. There are several candidates from the region.

Westlake (22-3), ranked in the top 10 in the nation part of the season, begins the Division III playoffs stocked with arms. Senior Jesse Kozlowski (7-1, 1.73 earned-run average) and junior Tyler Adamczyk (7-0, 1.83) are interchangeable, giving Coach Chuck Berrington two tall, hard-throwing right-handed starters. The bullpen is deep, too.

Crespi (23-3) also will trot out a formidable starter in every game. Clint Kofmehl (8-1, 1.11) and Marshall Plouffe (10-1, 1.96) each have thrown 64 innings.

Thousand Oaks (21-6) has three proven starters. Ace Chris Cordeiro (6-3) has the worst record because of two losses to Westlake, but he has 94 strikeouts and nine walks in 65 innings. Right-hander Greg Simonetti is 7-1 with a 1.72 ERA and left-hander Tracy Goebel is 8-1 with a 2.19 ERA.

Camarillo (22-6) is a special case. Neither Jim Alstot nor John Gonzalez is dominant, yet both are consistent winners. Alstot (8-0, 3.24) is 24-0 in three seasons in the Scorpions' program. Gonzalez, the epitome of the crafty left-hander, is 8-2 with a 1.95 ERA.

Teams with only one top-notch starter are living dangerously. Their regular-season records might be gaudy, but they become vulnerable when their No. 1 starter isn't on the mound.

Beware Hart (21-5), the defending Division II champion. Unless Jamie Shields is well enough to pitch, Eric Posthumus (7-0) is the one sure thing.

Same with Palmdale (18-6). Matt Harrington (10-0) is the top prospect in the country. But he can't throw every game, not when CIF rules restrict pitchers to 10 innings a week.

Matt Parris (8-2) of Highland is a proven stopper. But no one else carries an ERA under 3.80. The Bulldogs (19-6) did get a stellar performance from Tom Gonzales in a 10-0 victory over Channel Islands in a Division I wild-card game Tuesday. He'll have to come through again for Highland to reach the semifinals.

Matt Kohon (6-1, 2.49) of Notre Dame is the ace of a mediocre staff. The Knights (15-9) have more college and pro prospects than any team in Division IV with seven players batting above .330, but pitching could be their undoing.

Chaminade (18-6), which like Notre Dame dropped to Division IV to match up against schools with similar enrollment, could do some damage. Sophomore Bobby Paschal (7-0, 1.40) has developed rapidly, but T.J. Franco (5-1, 2.46) or Sean Clark (4-1, 3.83) need to step up for the Eagles to be playing two weeks from now.

Also in Division IV, Nordhoff (17-4) is fresh off its first league title in school history and has eight-game winners Scott Drew and Travis Flowers.

As No. 2 starters fare, so go the fortunes of baseball teams in the playoffs.

In no other sport does one player--especially one not considered a star--have such a crucial role.

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