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VARSITY TIMES

Pitcher has mom as motivator

May 21, 2008|Eric Sondheimer

When your mom has been a physical education teacher and softball coach for 20 years and she tells you to run around the block, you hop to it without questioning her authority.

That might be the secret to the success of hard-throwing left-hander Tyler Skaggs of Santa Monica High.

"She's really hard on me," Skaggs said of his mother, Debbie. "Even now, she says I should get straight A's. She makes me do my curveball drill. She says, 'Go run around the block until you get tired.' "

Skaggs, who is 6-foot-4, 180 pounds, finished his junior season with a 1.11 earned-run average after striking out 89, walking 22 and giving up 44 hits in 63 1/3 innings. He was selected the player of the year in the Ocean League, but he was beaten by Pomona Diamond Ranch, 3-2, in his team's Southern Section-Toyota Division IV playoff opener Friday.

It was a strange scene at Santa Monica, where mother and son were trying to find out how each was doing on opposite ends of the campus, where the softball and baseball teams competed in first-round playoff games. Debbie relied on phone calls to her former husband to find out details about her son's pitching performance.

"It just kills me," said Debbie, whose softball team beat Whittier California, 6-0. "I can't be in both places. You're focused on your game but you're worried about your son's game."

There's much to like about Skaggs, a 16-year-old who is being recruited by Cal State Fullerton, Arizona, UC Irvine, UCLA and Oregon. In the regular-season finale against Culver City, he had a perfect game for 6 2/3 innings until giving up a two-strike, two-out single.

"I was mad," he said. "It was a mistake pitch. It was a change-up outside, and I left it over the middle."

But Skaggs didn't get rattled -- he got even. He struck out the next batter and ended up throwing a one-hitter over 10 innings, striking out 14 and walking none in a 2-0 victory.

"I was feeling it that day," he said.

His ability to throw strikes while maintaining velocity at close to 90 mph makes him a pitcher headed for big things.

"He's a crafty left-handed guy who has full command of his pitches," said Newbury Park Coach Scott Drootin, whose team beat Skaggs, 3-0, in March. "He goes right after you. It's amazing how well he throws being a junior."

Last season as a sophomore, he was the losing pitcher at Dodger Stadium when Santa Monica was defeated by Covina Charter Oak, 7-1, in the Division IV final. It was a learning experience.

"It was pretty scary, a sophomore pitching at Dodger Stadium," he said. "Now I think of every game as a Dodger Stadium game. I get nervous but never as nervous."

He also took away some dirt from Dodger Stadium as a keepsake.

Credit mom for his stamina. She tells him to run around the block at their home in Santa Monica, a 30-minute workout. And she keeps close tabs on his grades, pushing him to maintain or improve his 3.7 grade-point average

"She looks at my grades almost every day and asks my teachers how I'm doing," he said.

Debbie comes from a competitive family. Her twin sister, Donna, is the softball coach at Valencia, and Skaggs has no problem injecting himself in the sibling rivalry, saying, "Her sister has the better team, but my mom is the better coach."

Donna lets her two younger children run with Tyler, but she said, "He's so tall we've got to put some meat on his bones. I tell Debbie, 'Maybe he should do less running and more eating.' "

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It's hard to believe that anyone in the Southland has put together better consecutive years at the plate than La Canada junior shortstop Eric Smith. As a sophomore, he batted .540 and struck out twice. This season, he hit .625 with five strikeouts. He also committed only one error and is a straight-A student.

"Definitely, he's a super player," Coach Dennis Ballard said.

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Los Angeles Crenshaw could have another special athlete to rally around. Freshman DeAnthony Thomas ran the 100 meters in 10.84 seconds to be the No. 1 qualifier at Thursday's City track and field championships at Lake Balboa Birmingham.

Thomas is also a promising running back, and football Coach Robert Garrett predicts he'll be an impact player on varsity this fall.

"He's very good," Garrett said.

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Zack Torres of Crescenta Valley is the real Iron Man. He's the starting second baseman for the Pacific League champion baseball team and also ran 9:21.60 in the Southern Section-Toyota Division I boys' 3,200 meters championship to qualify for Friday's Masters track and field meet at Cerritos College.

Crescenta Valley played El Toro on Tuesday in a second-round playoff game. If the Falcons advance, Torres could play in Friday's quarterfinals that start at 3:15 p.m., then rush to Cerritos -- or fly -- to run in his race that starts at 8:35 p.m.

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Westlake Village Oaks Christian has had its share of high-profile football players, and the Lions have another in the making in 6-2 sophomore quarterback-linebacker Trevor Gretzky, son of hockey legend Wayne Gretzky.

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