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High Schools | Eric Sondheimer

Beating Simon Not Simple

June 02, 2002|Eric Sondheimer

In baseball lore at La Puente Bishop Amat High, Adam Simon has become almost a cartoon superhero. Coaches, teammates and fans think he's indestructible, unshakeable, even unbeatable. Instead of wearing a baseball uniform, a cape might better fit his image.

"He's a warrior," Coach Kenny Kendrena said. "He's as good as it gets. He's in the upper echelon of competitors."

On a cloudless Saturday morning at Edison Field, with the Southern Section Division IV championship at stake, Simon was thriving in the tension-filled environment, going against the one pitcher in Southern California, Ian Kennedy of Westminster La Quinta, capable of challenging him pitch for pitch.

"They both did their thing," Kendrena said. "It was a classic championship matchup."

It figured that extra innings would be required to determine a champion for a game featuring the two best teams in Southern California.

Bishop Amat (28-2) pulled out a 2-1 victory over La Quinta (29-3), with Simon scoring the winning run on an error in the eighth inning.

"I never thought I'd be in a game to say no one deserves to lose," La Quinta Coach Dave Demarest said.

Kennedy (13-0), who pitched only six innings so he wouldn't exceed the mandatory 10-inning limit for the week, held the Lancers to one unearned run on three hits while striking out eight. Simon, though, went all eight innings, striking out five while giving up four hits. He finished the season 13-0 with a 1.36 earned-run average and was 27-1 in his three-year varsity career, which included consecutive Division IV titles.

There was no way Simon intended to leave Edison Field without his team taking home the championship trophy.

"Our team is too competitive," he said. "We weren't going to give in."

La Quinta did its best to stay close. Kennedy came up with some clutch strikeouts with men in scoring position to frustrate the Lancers. He finished his junior season with 168 strikeouts in 901/3 innings.

"Going against the No. 1 or No. 2 team in the country, of course you had to throw your best," Kennedy said. "I had to toughen up."

Errors, however, were the difference. Bishop Amat, which had six players sign with NCAA Division I schools, made none. La Quinta had three. Kennedy threw away a pickoff attempt to first base, setting up the Lancers' first run in the third inning. But the most critical error came on the final play of the game when first baseman Kevin Wason missed a throw from third baseman Ian Stewart with the bases loaded.

La Quinta players had tears in their eyes afterward. They were so close to defeating a team that has rarely lost the last two seasons. But beating Bishop Amat is difficult. The Lancers won the national championship last year and deserve it again this season after finishing with 26 consecutive victories. They dodged no one, playing tough opponents and winning big games away from home.

Their last three playoff victories were all by one run. And they had to go against elite pitchers, such as Loyola Marymount-bound Steve Kahn of Anaheim Servite, USC-bound Bobby Paschal of West Hills Chaminade and finally Kennedy.

"It was not easy at all and we'll relish it," Kendrena said. "The harder the road is, the better. It's the sign of a true champion to be able to do it."

Kendrena, a 31-year-old former Cal State Northridge pitcher, certainly deserves credit for molding the Lancers into a fundamentally sound outfit.

"It's a special group," Kendrena said. "One of the things I'm most proud of is this team is so dedicated and they thrive on being together."

The amateur draft begins Tuesday. Simon figures to be taken but college is his likely destination. He has signed with UCLA.

Coach Gary Adams compares him to two former Bruin two-way performers, Alex Sanchez and Dave Zancanaro, who became first-round draft picks. Simon was already thinking of trying to recruit Kennedy to the Bruins for 2004.

But Saturday wasn't about the future. It was about putting the finishing touch on a high school career that will be long remembered by Bishop Amat fans. Simon was at the bottom of the dog pile near home plate, his 5-foot-11 frame covered by his best friends. "We've played together forever," he said.

It will be a lasting memory.

*

Eric Sondheimer can be reached at eric.sondheimer@latimes.com.

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