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The season is all good for Norco's Hobgood

June 11, 2008|Dan Arritt | Times Staff Writer

Three years after his fresh start, Matt Hobgood of Norco chalked up his best start.

That was May 23, the day the junior right-hander outdueled one of the nation's top high school pitchers in a Southern Section-Toyota Division I quarterfinal. Hobgood lost on the radar gun but won on the scoreboard, throwing a five-hitter to defeat Orange Lutheran and Gerrit Cole, 1-0, at Hart Park in Orange.

Among the dramatic steps in his high school career, this was by far the biggest. Cole, selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball amateur draft last week by the New York Yankees, touched 101 mph on the radar gun that day; Hobgood was tagged at 96.

"Three miles faster than I've ever been clocked," said Hobgood, a 6-foot-4, 240-pounder.

The effort pushed his record to 10-0 and lowered his earned-run average to 1.34. Those numbers are just part of his storybook year. He also hit 15 home runs, which tied for third in the state, according to, and hit .489 with 45 runs batted in.

Hobgood said he never expected to achieve this much success this soon.

"The hitting definitely surprised me," said Hobgood, selected The Times' baseball player of the year. "I was coming into the year just hoping to dominate in pitching."

In more ways than one, Hobgood has come a long way during the last three years.

In January 2005, his father, Rick, died of colon cancer at 48, leaving his wife, Becky, four daughters and Matt. The family lived in Arizona at the time.

Rick was first diagnosed when Matt was 6, often leaving him too weak to practice with his son, Matt said. He managed to attend most games, but what Matt remembers most is his father's advice on peer pressure and staying clear of trouble -- something he still adheres to today "just to honor him a little bit and how he talked to me," he said.

Six months after her husband's death, Becky moved her family back to her hometown of Norco, where relatives still lived. "Just to get some support," she said. "I was running on adrenaline."

Matt enrolled at Norco High, where Becky had graduated. He immediately impressed coaches in a summer baseball league. That fall, he played tackle football for the first time, joining the Cougars' freshman team.

Already tall for his age, Hobgood decided to play basketball to help with his baseball conditioning. The experience went well until Hobgood broke his ankle with two weeks remaining in the season, causing him to miss most of his freshman baseball season.

Hobgood tried football again during his sophomore year. Norco is known for producing college-level offensive linemen, and Hobgood was on his way to joining that elite group.

However, throwing a block didn't bring the same satisfaction as firing a two-seam fastball. He also believed the hours spent in the weight room during the summer and fall would hurt his flexibility as a pitcher.

He decided to stick with baseball, and hasn't looked back. He has accepted a scholarship to Cal State Fullerton.

Hobgood's name is likely in the files of most Southland-based professional scouts, and come next year's draft, he could be faced with another tough choice.


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