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Unusual Recruits Deliver

Baseball: Lovett's classroom-based efforts brings success to Walnut Southlands Christian.


Wayne Lovett has transformed the Walnut Southlands Christian High baseball team from laughingstock to league leader in only two seasons by instructing his players to talk hitting in Algebra and pitching in U.S. history.

It's not that Lovett wants his players to disrupt their classes; he just wants them to locate a few more prospective teammates.

When Lovett took over the Southlands program before the 2001 season, only two students attended tryouts for a team that went 1-12 the previous year and would have made an excellent candidate for contraction. Lovett considered canceling the season. Instead, he had his players scour every classroom at the coed school of about 75 students in search of anyone who might possess an interest in joining the team. The Eagles ended up with 11 players, eight of whom had never played the sport.

"When they heard 'varsity baseball,' they're like, 'We can't play baseball, we're not very good,'" Lovett said. "We told them we would teach them. That's how we got our kids."

And thanks to Lovett's tutelage, the kids have been all right.

They finished last season 7-6, going 6-4 in the Express League, and made a rare playoff appearance. The Eagles (11-5, 8-0) could be headed for even greater heights this season with a roster of 14 players as they prepare for the Southern Section Division VI playoffs.

"I think the increased confidence level of the boys has really helped them," Lovett said. "They know they can compete, and they have higher expectations of themselves."

Lovett, who works in law enforcement, was drawn to Southlands by the presence of his stepson, infielder Steven Sanchez, and an opportunity to "take something that was kind of misshapen and mold it like a little piece of art."

The coach doesn't stress winning with his players.

"We work on the little things, the fundamentals. Like basically working on how to catch right, throw right," said sophomore pitcher Nick Roark, who improved to 7-0 Friday by striking out 11 batters over five innings in a victory over Silverado St. Michael's Prep.

"He tries to minimize our strikeouts and errors. We just focus on that and have been doing wonderful."

Southlands' improvement has been evident in more ways than its won-loss record. Last year, Lovett had to simplify the game by instituting only two or three signs. Now they use more than 20.

But Lovett's true genius may be in the way he builds his roster.

"We tell [students] to come check it out," senior center fielder Ronnie Rivera said. "But we want people to play because they have a love for the game, not because we tell them to."

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