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Eric Sondheimer

It'll be tough to overpower Chatsworth

June 01, 2007|Eric Sondheimer

Months ago, during a meaningless winter league baseball game, the first sign of Chatsworth High's impending onslaught of home runs was visible for all to see.

Pitching against the Chancellors on a Saturday morning in November was left-hander Andrew Lambo, the Marmonte League player of the year.

Up came Mike Moustakas -- bam. Up came Matt Dominguez -- boom. Up came Bobby Coyle -- pow.

Three consecutive home runs against one of the Southland's top pitchers provided a glimpse of the future.

Fast forward to Saturday's 4 p.m. City Section Championship Division title game at Dodger Stadium. Chatsworth, which has 74 home runs, one short of tying a state record, is looking more formidable in the power department than the venue's full-time tenant, which has hit a major league-low 32 home runs.

Yes, the pitching has not been particularly good in the City Section this season, but give the Chancellors credit for producing a group of players that has the strength and talent to send balls flying over fences no matter who's on the mound.

The most remarkable achievement in the Chancellors' season belongs to Moustakas, the team's senior shortstop.

A year ago, he was the City player of the year. Now he's the state record-holder for home runs in a season with 24 and in a career with 52.

He has become so much better in a year's time, and that's a rarity when an already gifted high school player makes another huge jump in ability.

Moustakas credits his experience playing for the U.S. junior national team last summer in Cuba as a defining moment in helping to elevate his play.

"Me and Matt have been playing against the best competition in the nation," he said. "When you're playing against guys who are better than you, you become a better player. I was learning from everybody, taking everything in and trying to apply it to my game."

Moustakas is also in the best shape of his high school career. He broke his ankle playing quarterback in the fall of 2005, and his weight ballooned to more than 210 pounds while he sat on the couch, recovering. He has dropped 15 pounds, is running faster than ever and has matured into a selective hitter.

A change in the batting order that occurred March 20 turned around the Chancellors' season. The team was struggling with three losses in its first eight games. Too many runners were being stranded.

Moustakas was moved from leadoff to No. 3 in the batting order. Dominguez stayed at No. 2, Nick Devian was promoted to leadoff and Coyle remained the cleanup hitter. What an impact the simple switch has made.

Moustakas has hit 17 of his 24 home runs since the change. Dominguez, a third baseman, has hit all 13 of his home runs in the same time. Coyle, a right fielder, has hit 11 of his 14 and center fielder Devian has hit all eight of his homers. Together, they have 59 of Chatsworth's team-record 74 home runs.

Reseda Cleveland (26-8), runner-up to Chatsworth (29-4) in the West Valley League, is the Chancellors' opponent in Saturday's final, and the Cavaliers enter as prohibitive underdogs.

Chatsworth, which hit 15 home runs in beating the Cavaliers three times this season, has a 16-game winning streak. But Cleveland's players ought to encourage, if not dare, the Chancellors to try to hit home runs because that's a winning strategy at Dodger Stadium.

Last season, Chatsworth players hit one fly ball after another in losing to Granada Hills Kennedy, 4-2, in the City final. Fly balls that usually go out at Chatsworth and Cleveland can be caught at Dodger Stadium.

Of course, the one flaw in trying to bait the Chancellors to go for the fences is Dominguez, the only player in City history to hit home runs at Dodger Stadium two years in a row.

Cleveland needs to make Chatsworth's pitchers try to win the game. It's a tough assignment, particularly because Cleveland's pitchers haven't held the Chancellors to fewer than 11 runs in a game.

Mickey Brodsky (10-2), a left-handed All-City pitcher, probably will start for the Cavaliers, though Coach Greg Venger is expected to promote a couple of pitchers from his 29-2-1 City champion junior varsity team and give them a shot. It might not be a bad gamble considering no one has succeeded in more than a month in cooling off Chatsworth's bats.

This will be the final time Moustakas and Dominguez suit up in a Chatsworth uniform before the amateur draft Thursday. That's when they figure to become first-round picks. Only four times since the draft's inception in 1965 have two players from the same high school been selected in the first round.

They deserve to play their final high school game at a big league ballpark because they've performed like future major leaguers all season.

Eric Sondheimer can be reached at eric.sondheimer@latimes.com.

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