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This year's College World Series is teeming with players who got their start playing in Southern California

June 12, 2003|Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writer

The greatest testament to the quantity and quality of college baseball talent in Southern California lies not in who plays here, but who doesn't.

Ryan Braun was an All-City Section player at Granada Hills High last year. Now the shortstop is the Miami Hurricanes' leading hitter. Stanford's two top players are junior pitcher John Hudgins from Mission Viejo and senior catcher Ryan Garko from Anaheim Servite. All three will play leading roles for their teams in the College World Series.

Cal State Fullerton, which plays Louisiana State in a first-round game Friday at Omaha, is certainly taking advantage of the abundance of players in the area. Twenty-nine of the 41 players on the Titans' roster are from Southern California.

Naturally, the nine local Division I schools get into the annual recruiting battle for the huge pool of area players. But programs across the nation often come in and find impact athletes as well.

All-American junior pitcher Vern Sterry, who attended Rowland High and Cypress College, was 11-0 for North Carolina State this year and helped lead the Wolfpack into the NCAA super regionals. Villa Park High's Erik Averill went 8-2 as a freshman at Arizona State. Paul Farinacci, formerly of Agoura High, was a key contributor for Big Ten Conference tournament champion Ohio State.

It simply makes sense to recruit in Southern California, says Nevada Las Vegas Coach Jim Schlossnagle.

"First and foremost, we try to sign the best players in Las Vegas," Schlossnagle said. "Once we've moved beyond that, the first place we're going to go is Southern California. I think that's the case for a lot of people across the country."

With tremendous weather and the multitude of teams ranging from the youth and high school levels to programs such as American Legion and Connie Mack, players have year-round access to baseball programs. Many coaches say that helps create a more polished product, once the players reach college.

Fullerton is a prime example of the quick transition from high school to college. The Titans had four freshman All-Americans -- pitchers Ryan Schreppel and Dustin Miller, second baseman Justin Turner and left fielder Danny Dorn. Schreppel is from Stockton, but the others are local: Miller and Dorn are from Diamond Bar High and Turner went to Lakewood Mayfair.

Other freshmen from Southland high schools who became key players for their teams this season included Pepperdine second baseman David Uribes (West Covina South Hills) and Long Beach State pitcher Cesar Ramos (Pico Rivera El Rancho).

Fullerton Coach George Horton said this particular group was ahead of the learning curve in picking up the college game.

"It's more a compliment to them and their personality than anything else," Horton said. "You can evaluate, you can predict and project, and you decide if a guy is [a year or two] away or if he can come in right away. With our recruits, we suspect that they can come in and contribute right away.

"With this group, they fit this program like a glove. They were like sponges, they absorbed every part of the game. Everything we threw at them, they took it in."

Said Miller, who won the decisive super-regional game Sunday against Arizona State, "I'm used to pitching against top hitters all my life. I think it makes a difference."

Arizona Coach Andy Lopez has a strong recruiting base in the area, dating to his days as coach at Cal State Dominguez Hills and Pepperdine. Lopez said there is one distinct difference in the type of player California produces, compared to other states.

"I've been to the Southeast and recruited Florida and we also recruited Texas," said Lopez, who also coached at Florida for seven seasons. "In terms of pitchers and arms, I think the state of Texas is the best, bar none. But if you're just looking for a baseball player, there is no place better [than Southern California].

"There's a real competitive edge to the kids. They have a real good feel for the game. And I think they are used to playing against top competition all year round. It's a credit to the high school coaches in Southern California, the junior college coaches and, for that matter, the youth coaches.

"In seven years at Florida, we had kids that maybe were more physical and could hit the ball further. But they didn't have the small instincts you're looking for that you see at Fullerton or USC."

Nevada Coach Gary Powers said the built-in advantages Southern California has helps young players hone their skills.

"You can have equal talent but then the next thing is experience," said Powers, who has a top catcher in Brett Hayes of Sherman Oaks Notre Dame High. "In some of these rural areas, they don't have the kind of scout teams or fall teams that you have in California. These kids sometimes play on two or three teams at the same time. There's no substitute for that kind of experience."

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