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High Schools | BASEBALL REPORT

Eagles Responding With Flying Colors

May 19, 2003|Mike Bresnahan | Times Staff Writer

It was done for fun, to be different from other teams.

Why wear tie-dyed jerseys? Why not, was Moreno Valley Valley View's response.

Things needed to be shaken and stirred if Valley View wanted to loosen the grip Riverside Arlington and Riverside Poly had held on the Ivy League in recent seasons.

The uniforms were a start, but by season's end the Eagles were standing out for other reasons. They were winning games. A lot of them.

After a 7-7 start, Valley View won 12 consecutive games and its first Ivy League title since moving from the Citrus Belt League three seasons ago. Along the way, the Eagles moved past Poly, which had USC-bound pitcher Jo Jo Reyes, and Arlington, which won the Southern Section Division III title last season.

Not bad for the kids who were fit to be dyed.

"If you look at us in the past, Poly has been deep in the playoffs, Arlington won it last year and here we were coming in to our third year in the league," pitcher Steven Wright said. "We're breaking through finally."

Wright is one of the main reasons. A 6-foot-1 right-hander who has signed with Hawaii, he is 9-0 with a 1.05 earned-run average and 90 strikeouts in 60 innings. A third baseman or shortstop when he's not on the mound, Wright is hitting .481 with 18 doubles and only five strikeouts in 79 at-bats.

Coach Matt Davis, in his fourth year at Valley View, played at UC Riverside and made it as far as triple A as a pro. He thinks Wright could go that far ... at least.

"When he was a sophomore in high school, he was about where I was as a senior in college," Davis said. "It's not very often you can say this, but I put it at about 50-50 he'll make it in the big leagues. He's so much more advanced mentally than other kids. He's 18 going on about 24."

Wright throws in the 89-92-mph range with a sharp slider and changeup. Last Tuesday, he had 12 strikeouts in a 5-0 victory over cross-town rival Canyon Springs that led to an asymmetrical ending to a season that unfolded after a loss two months ago to Canyon Springs.

At that time, Valley View was 2-2 in league play and destined for the middle of the pack. But Wright spoke out at an impromptu meeting the next day during pre-practice stretching. The message was clear: No more messing around.

"I knew we could hang with those guys," he said. "We've always rose up to the big games and in the little games we play terrible and they sneak in a win. I was like, 'Come on guys, we've got to break that tradition.' "

They did just that, winning their next two games against Arlington, including a 7-1 victory two weeks ago that practically clinched the title. The Eagles also defeated Poly's Reyes twice on the way to a 13-2 league record.

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There were other teams besides Valley View that were surprises this season:

* Huntington Beach Edison (23-4) went 15-11 last year and 8-7 in league play but this season won the Sunset League for the first time since 1984 with pitcher David Huff leading the way.

* Palm Desert was 16-10 last season and third place in the Desert Valley League, but improved to 23-2 this season and could be the No. 1-seeded team in the Southern Section Division III playoffs.

* Westminster finished 18-8 and tied for the Golden West League championship despite Coach Ricardo Cruz being fired for undisclosed reasons three weeks before the season.

Then there were the teams that struggled amid heightened expectations, falling out of The Times' preseason rankings by midseason, if not earlier:

* Anaheim Esperanza (10-15), ranked No. 13 in the preseason, was on the wrong side of a couple of one-run losses and couldn't get past inconsistent play on defense.

* La Puente Bishop Amat (10-16) was ranked No. 1 in the nation in some polls last season, but graduated several starters and tied for last in the Serra League.

* Riverside Poly (17-8) was ranked No. 8 by The Times in the preseason primarily because of Reyes' transfer from cross-town rival Arlington but was hurt by youth and inexperience and finished third in the Ivy League.

* Rolling Hills Estates Peninsula (18-8-1) was ranked No. 15 in the preseason but faltered when pitcher Andy Beal was injured and needed to defeat Redondo in a third-place tiebreaker game to make the playoffs.

Finally, there were the teams in The Times' preseason rankings that endured a slump but rallied to re-enter the top 25:

* Camarillo lost its first three games without outfielder Delmon Young but went 22-0 the rest of the way.

* Glendora was hit by a midseason losing streak but has won its last nine games as pitcher Brandon Villalobos returned sharply from elbow tendinitis.

* Lakewood started 3-4 as it tried to adapt without injured pitcher Jason Wanamaker but won 20 of its last 23 games.

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Southern Section playoff pairings for all six divisions will be announced today. Wild-card games are Tuesday and first-round games are Friday.

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