Jr., San Bernardino Cajon
Then: Coach Jerry Tivey knew what he was getting when Kajitani arrived at Cajon. She is the younger sister of Maria Kajitani, a four-year all-league catcher who graduated in 2001 but didn't play in college. Nicole batted .510 with 32 runs, 26 runs batted in and 36 stolen bases as a freshman, and .389 with 24 runs, 12 RBIs and 12 stolen bases as a sophomore. She played shortstop, and reduced the number of errors from 12 as a freshman to nine last season.
Now: Cajon, top-seeded in the Southern Section Division III playoffs, on Thursday played its first quarterfinal game since 1996. Going into that game at Perris, Kajitani had seven hits in her first eight at-bats in the playoffs. For the season, she was hitting .500, with 29 runs, 26 RBIs and 10 stolen bases, and had committed only one error. An aggressive hitter in the leadoff spot, she has 16 doubles, one of six single-season or career records she holds at Cajon.
Quote: "My sister helps me mentally with the game, seeing it from a different perspective," Kajitani said.
Sr., Santa Ana Mater Dei
Then: Called up to varsity as a freshman during the playoffs, Torres won the starting shortstop job as a sophomore and that summer was selected to participate in the U.S. Junior Olympic trials, along with teammate Danny Espinosa. An arm injury during the trials ended his hopes of making the team. Espinosa, a second baseman who did make the Junior Olympic team, beat out Torres last season for the starting shortstop job at Mater Dei. Torres moved to second base and hit .364 with six home runs, 33 runs batted in, 25 runs and 11 stolen bases, earning team and Serra League most-valuable-player honors.
Now: Torres signed with USC in the fall and returned with Espinosa this season to form one of the best-hitting middle-infield combinations in the Southland. He has 41 hits in 87 at-bats, including a home run, 19 RBIs and 21 stolen bases heading into today's Southern Section Division I quarterfinal at San Clemente. He also has 18 hits in 33 at-bats since being diagnosed with a hernia in early April. In late March, he was named the outstanding offensive player of the Placentia El Dorado National Classic after getting seven hits in 14 at-bats and driving in nine runs.
Quote: "When you're hurting, you just try to concentrate on everything else," Torres said. "You make sure everything is going right mechanically, so that the injury does not affect you in any way."
Sr., Lake Balboa Birmingham
Then: Having nearly drowned in a pool at age 5, Escamilla, 17, was not completely comfortable around the water until age 10, when he was taught to swim by a neighbor at a public pool. Not long after, he swam to a second-place finish in the backstroke in a parks and recreation age-group meet. Diving was a later addition, with his first attempts coming upon entering Birmingham as a freshman. Although he has continued to race for the Patriots, diving quickly became his sport of choice. "I felt it to be my passion," he said.
Now: Escamilla, who placed third behind Birmingham teammate Joe Schaefer-Sommerville in the City Section diving finals as a freshman, has won the title each year since. He scored 388.40 points on 11 dives last week and secured the title in the last round when he scored 19 points on his final dive, a forward 2 1/2 -somersault tuck with a degree of difficulty of 2.4. To cap an eventful two weeks, Escamilla helped Birmingham place third in the City Section boys' swimming championships Wednesday, leading off the Patriots' 200-freestyle relay team, which finished third with a time of 1:35.58. He plans to give up swimming and concentrate on diving at Los Angeles Pierce College.
Quote: "I've gotten my dives to where they look more graceful, easier," Escamilla said. "If I'm going to do something, I want it to be top-flight. I want people to go, 'There's Hector.' "
-- Lauren Peterson