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BASEBALL PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Plouffe Delivers With Versatility

June 20, 2004|Dan Arritt | Times Staff Writer

Trevor Plouffe could do it all for the Encino Crespi baseball team this season. He was the Celts' ace pitcher, their set-up guy and occasional savior.

He went 12-2 on the mound with an 0.86 earned-run average, leading the Celts to the championship games of the Southern Section Division III playoffs and the prestigious El Dorado National Classic tournament.

Offensively, he was considered such a threat that pitchers didn't hesitate to pitch around him. He still hit .481 with six home runs and 29 runs batted in. He also drew 27 walks to boost his on-base percentage to .622 and set the table for those batting after him.

When Plouffe was given a chance to deliver in the clutch, such as in a Division III semifinal, he usually came through.

Pro scouts and college coaches could probably rattle off several more qualities that made Plouffe, The Times' baseball player of the year, so desirable heading into Major League Baseball's amateur draft earlier this month.

He signed with USC in November but was selected as the fourth shortstop and 20th player overall by the Minnesota Twins. On Friday, he signed a contract that included a reported $1.5-million signing bonus.

For those who have followed Plouffe since he doubled off the wall in his first at-bat as a freshman at Crespi, his success has been no surprise.

Randy Thompson, who became coach at Mission League rival Mission Hills Alemany when Plouffe was a freshman, said he would always remember a game last season in which Plouffe came to bat after hitting three home runs. Down by a handful of runs, Plouffe laid down a bunt single to try to ignite a rally.

"That tells you something about that kid right there," said Thompson, who recently accepted the head position at Golden Valley, a new high school in Santa Clarita. "He laid down a drag bunt when he had a chance to hit four home runs. I just looked at him and said, 'Now, that's a team player.' "

He hit .500 with six home runs and 47 RBIs last season and was 12-1 with an 0.71 ERA. He led the Celts to a 1-0 victory over North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake in the Division III championship game.

Plouffe said the moments he would probably remember most from this season were the many close games involving the Celts.

"So many one- and two-run games," said Plouffe, who turned 18 on Tuesday. "It really created a closeness on the team that we used on the field when we were behind."

With eight starters back this season, the Celts finished 27-5, including 12-1 in games decided by two runs or fewer. They would have been hard-pressed to match that mark without the pitching of Plouffe, who threw 22 of 23 innings in three 1-0 victories.

Plouffe said he especially drew inspiration from senior teammates Ollie Linton and Nick Santoro.

Linton, a 5-foot-8, 140-pound center fielder who signed with UC Irvine, took advantage of his speed and bunting abilities to hit .434. He led the team with 14 stolen bases and 35 runs scored. Santoro, a Sacramento State-bound catcher, hit .453 with a team-high 36 RBIs.

"Nick wasn't even sure if he was going to be a starter," Plouffe said. "What I drew from him is, improvement is the key. If you work on your weaknesses, you can reach your goals. He actually turned out to be one of the best catchers I've ever thrown to."

During the playoffs, Plouffe made sure he had a hand in each of the victories.

He threw a three-hitter and scored the run in a 1-0 victory over Torrance in the opening round. He had a double and triple and scored in a 3-1 second-round victory at Palm Desert, then came back with a five-hitter to beat Huntington Beach Ocean View, 3-2, in a quarterfinal.

Plouffe followed that game with his most clutch performance of the season, hitting a two-run single in the bottom of the seventh to give the Celts a 7-6 victory over La Mirada in a semifinal.

Plouffe said the game-winning hit was especially important because he had committed an error at shortstop in the top of the sixth to put the go-ahead run on base, then entered to pitch and gave up a base hit to allow the runner to score.

"I was thinking, 'This could be my fault the season ends,' " he said. "But this whole season has been up and down, and we showed great character throughout it."

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