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SOFTBALL

Barons Continue Unexpected Flight Toward the Top

April 24, 2001|MARTIN HENDERSON

Flying under the radar has been a good thing for Fountain Valley, which has been one of the surprises of the season. A year ago, with pitcher Natalie King, the Barons went into the season ranked No. 1 in the county. By regular season's end, they were in a three-way tie for first place in the Sunset League with Marina and Los Alamitos, and had dropped to sixth in the rankings.

This season, without the stress of having to win under a microscope, Fountain Valley has forged a school-record 12-game winning streak and, though unranked at the beginning of the season, is now No. 2 in Orange County.

The Barons are 19-5 and have a chance to put the Sunset League race away with games Tuesday against Marina and Thursday against Esperanza.

The most recent victory was a 1-0 decision over Kennedy, providing Fountain Valley with its first Woodbridge Classic championship behind the play of tournament MVP Jenny Doezie.

"We're getting a lot of leadership from the older kids," said Coach Cary Baker, referring to senior catcher Kristin Crowder, junior right fielder Christina Skaggs and senior second baseman Kirin Kumar, who has a team-leading .336 average.

"The kids are getting more confident every day," Baker said. "We've played good defense, and I had confidence that we would. The pitching was the question mark, and the pitching has been very good. And we're scoring runs when we get the opportunity."

Seven players in the lineup have had game-winning hits.

Senior Jackie Brown (6-3) and Nicole Lapier (10-0) settled in as the pitchers after league play began. Another freshman, Katie Trott (3-2), will alternate with Lapier next season after Brown departs for Long Island University.

Brown waited for three seasons behind King, who is now at Texas.

"Last year, we relied on Natalie and we weren't as intense," Brown said. "This year, there's a lot more intensity, the chemistry is real good. It's better for the girls that there weren't those high expectations. Everyone thought we'd go downhill after we lost [King]."

Baker said it's one of his more enjoyable seasons.

"The team I took to win the CIF championship in 1986 was this kind of team, where there was a lot of leadership within, they liked playing together," Baker said. "It didn't matter what position they were playing, they were confident with each other. It's the kind of team where they cheer during the game--we haven't had that in a long time. They want to play games every day. They're ready to play every day."

And lately, they keep winning every day.

"I'm really glad we're doing so well," Brown said, "because it wasn't expected of us."

FINDING RELIEF

When Kendal Kincaid's pitching hand was bruised by a line drive, it could have spelled trouble for Villa Park in the Woodbridge tournament's consolation championship. Kincaid has done almost all the pitching for the Spartans.

So freshman Elizabeth Whipkey, who was moved up from the junior varsity, replaced Kincaid, and closed out a 2-1 victory over Lakewood, giving up four hits in four innings, but not allowing any runs. When Leslie Green hit a two-out RBI triple in the bottom of the seventh, Whipkey was the winning pitcher.

Villa Park knows what it's like to have a game end in the bottom of the seventh. The Spartans are 13-9, and in eight of those losses, Villa Park lost in the other team's final at-bat.

LOOKING AHEAD

Calvary Chapel and Orange Lutheran battle for the Olympic League title today. Irvine and Woodbridge, who weren't expected to be playing for first place in the Sea View League, do so today at 5 p.m. at Barber Park in Irvine.

In the South Coast, El Toro plays at Dana Hills Wednesday and Capistrano Valley plays at San Clemente Friday.

Correspondent Don Erickson contributed to this report.

If you have an item or idea for the softball report, you can fax us at (714)966-5663 or e-mail us at martin.henderson@latimes.com

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

SOFTBALL TOP 10

Orange County Sportswriters' Poll

*--*

Pos. School League Rec 1. Foothill (1) Century 20-2 2. Ftn. Valley (3) Sunset 19-5 3. Pacifica (4) G. Grove 17-3 4. Kennedy (5) Empire 13-6 5. Canyon (2) Century 17-6-1 6. Rosary (6) Serra 15-7 7. Esperanza (7) Sunset 15-4-1 8. S. Margarita (NR) Serra 16-5 9. El Toro (9) S. Coast 15-8 10. El Modena (NR) Century 13-7-1

*--*

Others: Capistrano Valley (14-7-1), Cypress (12-4), Laguna Hills (18-5), Loara (18-6), Mater Dei (11-7), Woodbridge (12-10).

Last week's rankings in parentheses

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