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Undefeated Pacifica Seeks Respect

May 05, 2003|Mike Bresnahan | Times Staff Writer

If ever a school suffered an understandable inferiority complex, it was Garden Grove Pacifica.

Pacifica has been the Clippers of Southland high school baseball, developing young talent handed up from the successful local youth system only to have players leave.

Worse yet, some of those players ended up at nationally ranked league rival Westminster La Quinta, only six miles away.

And there was always this to contend with: The miseries of the baseball team have been contrasted to the success of the Pacifica softball team, which has been ranked nationally in recent seasons.

Poor Pacifica baseball. Not even the kings of their own diamonds.

But here the Mariners are, a little more than a week away from their biggest two games in school history -- May 14 at La Quinta and May 16 at home in a rematch -- with the possibilities of the school's first league title since 1982.

It has been a remarkable season for the Mariners, who are 22-0, 10-0 in Garden Grove League play and are matching La Quinta (21-2, 8-0) win for win. Andrew Estrada (9-0) has become one of the top pitchers in the region and center fielder Travis Bernard has hit at least .500 all season.

Has Pacifica's past almost passed? First-year Coach Andy Lewis, a former assistant at South Torrance, thinks so.

The Mariners' main problem had been coaching instability. Mark Flatten's three-year tenure that ended last season was a lifetime at Pacifica, which has had five coaches since 1996.

Players have been unwilling to see what new regimes will bring and have joined the conga line of coaches on the way out.

"Pacifica has always had athletes but we've lost a lot of them to other schools because of all the turnover," Lewis said. "There's never been a time where there was a guy trying to put a program into place who stuck around long enough to see it through. It's hard for guys to adjust to a different philosophy and different styles. It's my goal to keep us going in one direction."

Before the school year began, the Mariners lost second baseman Ryan Johnson and catcher Aaron Randall, both of whom transferred to La Quinta. Randall was hitting .451 before last week, the third-highest average on La Quinta, and Johnson was hitting .438, the team's fifth-highest average.

Catcher Scott Tompkins, one of Pacifica's eight seniors, said he was disappointed in Johnson and Randall.

"It felt like they were abandoning their friends who they'd played with forever," Tompkins said. "No one else can tell them what to do. If they thought that it was in their best interests, all right. It just didn't feel right for them to leave."

Another transfer from last year, Adam Rodriguez, was hitting .333 for Huntington Beach Marina, the team's third-highest average. La Quinta senior shortstop Blake Crosby, who attended Pacifica as a freshman, was hitting a team-high .481 before last week.

La Quinta Coach Dave Demarest said the transfers acquired from Pacifica in recent years have been a product of the Mariners' multiple coaching changes.

"They came because they got tired of all the changes at Pacifica," he said. "We have been a solution and not the problem. If they solve the problem, this wouldn't be happening. I don't like the transfer thing, but when you have a different coach every two years, you tend to say, 'What's going on here?' "

La Quinta lost once to Pacifica in the last 10 years, a 3-2 defeat in 1997, but has defeated Pacifica 19 times over the same span.

Last year, Pacifica lost to La Quinta by scores of 3-1 and 3-0, mustering a total of six hits. In the shutout loss, La Quinta's Ian Kennedy pitched a two-hitter with nine strikeouts.

Then again, La Quinta has defeated nearly everybody in the last 10 years, producing a 115--9 record in league play and winning 10 consecutive titles.

Pacifica's detractors say its schedule this season has been softer than a rosin bag. The Mariners' best victory was an 11-10 survival test against Dana Point Dana Hills in the Newport-Mesa tournament championship April 16. Dana Hills is 13-9 and in fourth place in the South Coast League with a 4-7 record.

Granted, Pacifica is in Division IV of the Southern Section and Dana Hills is in Division I, but there have been few quality victories.

"We haven't played the strongest schedule but we haven't lost yet," Lewis said. "No matter who you play, it's hard to roll 22 games in a row without losing."

Coming to Pacifica's defense? La Quinta's Demarest.

"This has done great things for our league," he said. "Their kids have always showed class. We've always had good games. I'm hoping they stay undefeated [before playing us]. This thing about their schedule, I don't care who you play, you're 22-0, you've done something real good."

Maybe players from other schools will take notice of Pacifica. The talent chute extending from the school might turn into a ladder leading players up to it.

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