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Cabrera's a Leader by Most Definitions

Chatsworth second baseman bats first, has the state record for hits and school record for homers.

June 08, 2004|Dan Arritt | Times Staff Writer

Steady-fielding, power-hitting second basemen are difficult to find at the high school level. Leadoff hitters who reach base 60% of the time and score at nearly the same rate are baseball's equivalent to archeological treasures.

But Chatsworth has those qualities wrapped into one player this spring. Willie Cabrera has been putting opponents on their heels since the opening pitch nearly three months ago, and tonight he'll dig into the batter's box for one last game as a member of the top-seeded Chancellors (34-0), who will try to defend their City Section Championship Division title against second-seeded San Pedro (31-3) at Dodger Stadium.

Cabrera broke the state record for most hits in a season Friday, slamming a leadoff home run in the fifth inning to spark a comeback from a seven-run deficit in a 10-7 win against Granada Hills Kennedy.

It was the 69th hit and school-record 11th home run of the season for Cabrera, who would single later in the game, eclipsing the previous state mark of 68 hits set by Gerald Laird of Westminster La Quinta in 1998. Cabrera, who is 5 feet 10 and 180 pounds, also leads the Chancellors in batting average (.543) and runs scored (58). In the field, he has only five errors in 99 chances.

The numbers seem astronomical to Cabrera, who came into the season just happy to be back in the lineup after a knee injury ended his junior season after seven games.

"My main goal coming into the season was to put my team in position to win games and, hopefully, win a [City] title," Cabrera said. "Just get on base for the two, three and four hitters because they're obviously a force to be reckoned with."

Pepperdine-bound Jason Dominguez, who is 12-0 on the mound and plays center field when not pitching, moved into the No. 2 spot in the batting order late in the regular season. Dominguez, who is hitting .485 with a team-leading 18 doubles, has forced opposing pitchers to challenge Cabrera even more. In three playoff games, Cabrera is eight for 11 with three doubles and three home runs.

"You can't pitch around both those guys," Chatsworth Coach Tom Meusborn said. "You have to pitch to one of them and our three, four and five guys are doing pretty well too."

They include freshman third-baseman Matt Dominguez, brother of Jason, who is hitting .468 with a region-leading and freshman state record 64 runs batted in. The Chancellors also have a state-record 49-game winning streak.

Jason Dominguez will start at pitcher tonight, and Chatsworth will also have top reliever Bryan Petersen available for the first time in the playoffs. Petersen had been sidelined after undergoing knee surgery late in the regular season.

Cabrera is quick to credit Meusborn and his assistants for his success. Though Cabrera began playing baseball at a young age, he has learned more than he expected in four years at Chatsworth.

For example, batting practice used to be nothing more than a home run derby for Cabrera and his teammates. But at Chatsworth, players are taught to work on quality swings, not quantity.

"You don't want to be taking too many," Cabrera said. "It'll start messing with your swing."

They've also taught him to look for pitches in certain areas of the strike zone, making it easier to make good contact if he guesses right.

"I'm going to get it once in my at-bat," he said. "All I have to do is not miss."

Meusborn is not surprised by Cabrera's performance this season. Cabrera was hitting .500 when he hurt his knee sliding into second base last season and he came back with a strong fall performance.

"Over half of his home runs are to the opposite field," Meusborn said. "That tells you he has got the ability to drive the ball the other way."

Cabrera will certainly make more of an impact tonight than he did in last season's championship game. He watched that one from the dugout.

"It was definitely heartbreaking," he said. "I wanted to be out there but I couldn't, so I had to show that I could root for them and cheer for them. After all, it doesn't take nine players to win, it takes all 18."

And it doesn't hurt to get off to a good start.

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