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SPOTLIGHT ON BASEBALL

A Change for the Better Comes to Dana Hills

April 01, 2002|BEN BOLCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Zeke Barragan desperately needed a spark heading into his third season as coach of the long-beleaguered Dana Point Dana Hills High baseball program.

Barragan would have taken a timely hit, a strong pitching performance, a defensive gem--anything to ignite a team that had an all-time winning percentage of .462 and was 6-38-1 in South Coast League play over the previous three years.

His Dolphins have responded with nothing less than a firestorm.

The team is hitting .336, has a collective earned-run average of 2.53 and is vying for its first league title since 1991. Dana Hills (9-3, 3-2), No. 18 in The Times' regional rankings, is tied with three other teams atop the South Coast League, but the Dolphins have the best overall record.

"I didn't think we would have jumped out to the start we jumped out to," Barragan said. "After last year, I would have considered .500 a big improvement. To have taken nine out of 12--we're a little surprised."

The Dolphins opened the season strongly in the Loara tournament. Senior Tony Davidson threw a one-hitter against Villa Park in the semifinals, allowing Dana Hills to advance to the championship game against Lakewood. The Dolphins lost but made a big impression in their 30th varsity season.

Leading the way have been Brent Lawson, a junior center fielder who, according to Barragan, "came out of nowhere" to hit .452 with a .549 on-base percentage; Jeff Kaplan, a junior right fielder leading the team with five home runs and 17 RBIs; and Davidson, 3-1 with a 1.12 ERA.

Matt Cooper, a senior shortstop hitting .389, said the older players simply became sick of losing.

"One of our mottos is, 'You've got to hate to lose,'" Cooper said. Barragan said the difference is also attributable to a renewed work ethic. After the Dolphins finished 2001 with a 7-18-1 record, they started to come together during a Memorial Day tournament. Players routinely took extra grounders and batting practice.

"Ever since then you could just feel a different attitude," Barragan said. "They're great kids and they're not afraid to work. That has been the biggest difference."

Dana Hills can continue its strong start Tuesday when it plays Antioch in the West Coast Classic in San Jose.

The Dolphins could face Huntington Beach Edison, No. 4 in The Times' rankings and the defending tournament champion, in the second round.

"We've got a long way to go," Barragan said. "In all honesty, to make the playoffs after last year would be a huge step for the program."

Always a Classic: La Puente Bishop Amat, ranked No. 7 nationally by Baseball America and No. 2 in Southern California by The Times, begins defense of its 2001 National Classic title at 5 p.m. today when it plays Livermore Granada at Cal State Fullerton.

The 16-team tournament includes participants from five states. The six Southland teams are Bishop Amat, No. 5 Westminster La Quinta, No. 9 Lakewood, No. 10 West Hills Chaminade, No. 14 Placentia El Dorado and Anaheim Esperanza. Chaminade is also ranked No. 15 by Baseball America.

Games will be played today through Thursday at El Dorado High, Esperanza High, Champions Sports Complex in Placentia and Cal State Fullerton. Semifinal games will be played at 5 and 7 p.m. Wednesday at Cal State Fullerton, with the championship at 7 p.m. Thursday at Cal State Fullerton.

Comebackers: Scott Scharlach, a senior right-hander, pitched a one-hitter with 12 strikeouts and no walks for Pasadena Poly in a 1-0 nonleague victory over Sierra Madre Maranatha. The only baserunner Scharlach allowed was on a bunt single with two out in the third inning. Scharlach retired 13 consecutive batters to end the game....

La Puente Nogales Coach John Romano recorded his 400th career victory after pitcher Brandon Mozley struck out seven in six strong innings during a 4-1 win over Rowland Heights Rowland. After opening his career with a one-season stint at Yucca Valley, Romano has spent the last 24 years at Nogales.

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