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Pierce Tries to Catch Santa Ana Napping

May 19, 2000|FERNANDO DOMINGUEZ

They spent virtually every daylight minute Saturday playing in a wind tunnel.

It took about three hours to complete the first baseball game, more than four to finish the second.

When the dust cleared, and there was plenty of it at Ridgecrest once the gales blew through Cerro Coso College's field, Pierce had won the Southern California regional best-of-three series.

Pierce capped it with a 35-13 drubbing of Cerro Coso in the final game, the most runs scored by the Brahmas in a game since Bob Lofrano became coach in 1991. There are no records available before that.

The reward? A pass to the next round, where the Brahmas (26-13) play host and top-seeded Santa Ana (34-7-1) today in one of two four-team regional finals that run through Sunday.

Each regional champion advances to the four-team state championships May 27-29 at Fresno.

An upset of Santa Ana, champion of the powerful Orange Empire Conference, would move the Brahmas a step closer to Fresno.

Pierce last visited the championships in 1992, but the Brahmas are making their fourth appearance in a regional final.

Surviving the double-elimination regional, especially one played in Orange County, usually is difficult. The teams from that area are traditionally strong.

The Brahmas, though, are no pushovers. Pierce has a .323 batting average and 4.23 earned-run average to Santa Ana's .330 and 4.77.

The Brahmas have six batters hitting .340 or better, Santa Ana has three.

Santa Ana is a long-ball threat. Outfielders C.J. Wilson has 13 home runs and Jason Welch has 12. The Dons have 63 homers, Pierce 38.

"Offensively, they're really going to come at you," Lofrano said.

Pierce can counter with excellent starters, 6-foot-5 left-hander Doug Slaten (10-2, 3.50 ERA) and right-hander Jack Cassel (7-2, 3.55), and reliever Junior Avina (5-0, 2.57), a right-hander.

Wilson (7-1, 3.34), a left-hander, is Santa Ana's most efficient pitcher, followed by right-hander Jeremy Weinberg (9-1, 4.18).

"You gotta keep in mind, the competition in the Orange Empire is like playing in the state championships every game," Lofrano said.

If nothing else, the Brahmas won't have to deal with a long ride home this weekend.

"We were still in Ridgecrest at 8 o'clock [Saturday night]," Lofrano said. "That was quite a day."

*

One of Lofrano's Western State Conference colleagues is calling it a career.

Ken Wagner, Moorpark's coach the last 10 seasons, is retiring and passing the baton to longtime assistant Mario Porto.

"I'm trying to slow down a little bit," Wagner said. "I had some fun and some great teams, but it was the right thing for me to do at this time.

"I'll help Mario, but I don't want to be tied down."

Wagner had a 183-204-1 record at Moorpark and was the WSC's Northern Division co-coach of the year this season, when the Raiders were 15-12 in conference play and placed third in the division.

Moorpark was WSC tri-champion in 1990, Wagner's first season.

*

Left-hander Ryan Gunches of Northwood University in Midland, Mich., was selected pitcher of the week in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

Gunches, from El Camino Real, pitched a one-hitter and struck out six in a 1-0 upset victory over Grand Valley State.

*

Barry Matthews, a junior designated hitter and left-handed pitcher at Gonzaga, went into a nonconference game Thursday night at Lewis-Clark State in Lewiston, Idaho, with a school-record 26-game hitting streak.

The streak is the longest in the West Coast Conference this season and four games short of the conference mark, set by Matt Howard of Pepperdine in 1988.

Matthews played at Crespi High and Pierce.

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