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ERIC SONDHEIMER / ON HIGH SCHOOLS

UCLA gets Beckman pitcher James Kaprielian to switch loyalties

Despite his family's devotion to USC, the top recruit happily is headed from Irvine to Westwood. He is 8-2 this season with a 0.96 earned-run average, two no-hitters and a one-hitter.

May 10, 2012|Eric Sondheimer

The Kaprielians from south Orange County are such loyal fans of USC that when pitcher James Kaprielian of Irvine Beckman was on the mound against the rival University Trojans, who have blue uniforms, his grandmother grumbled, "It's weird seeing Trojans in blue. It isn't right."

Enter UCLA baseball Coach John Savage, who came away with the recruiting coup from the class of 2012 by getting Kaprielian to sign with the evil Bruins.

"We made sure he didn't see my room," Kaprielian said. "One step in and he would have known."

USC posters, USC trash cans, USC key chains — they all can be found in the Kaprielian house. But UCLA is where he's happily headed in the fall, and the Bruins will be getting one of the most productive pitchers in Southern California for the last two seasons.

"I've coached for 17 years and have never coached a pitcher with as good of stuff," Beckman Coach Kevin Lavalle said.

Last season, the 6-foot-3 right-hander was 11-1 in leading Beckman to the Southern Section Division 3 championship. This season, he's 8-2 with a 0.96 earned-run average, two no-hitters and a one-hitter.

He's part of a UCLA recruiting class filled with so many top high school pitchers that if they were to all show up in the fall, Savage would be the envy of college baseball. There was one week this season in which UCLA signees threw a no-hitter, one-hitter, two-hitter and four-hitter within days of one another.

Kaprielian is challenging to be No. 1 on the list of incoming recruits.

"When you come and watch James pitch, you see the command he has on all three of his pitches," Lavalle said. "What you don't see is what he does on Monday before pitching and the way he prepares himself on Wednesday and Thursday. He just comes out and competes, and our guys are so confident when he steps on the mound."

Kaprielian's curveball was so nasty two weeks ago that University didn't come close to getting a hit. He would have had a perfect game if not for an error in the seventh inning; he settled for a no-hitter. His fastball was clocked at 89 mph.

"I feel capable of throwing any pitch at any point in the count," he said.

Early in his prep career, Kaprielian remembers, he was brought in to protect a one-run lead in the seventh inning. The count went to 3 and 2, and Kaprielian threw a curveball with the game on the line.

"He completely buckled," Kaprielian said of the batter. "From that time on, I've had a burst of confidence on the mound and have been trying to carry it with me."

It's not only Beckman that he proudly represents but a lot of Armenians too.

"There's a small Irvine community and when they hear about me or read about me, they give me a call," he said. "There's definitely a lot of support from the Armenian community."

The playoffs begin next week, and Kaprielian can't think of anything better than ending his high school days playing in the Division 3 championship game at Dodger Stadium.

Then it's on to Westwood.

"I had to be the first one to go to the other side," he said with a smile.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATSondheimer

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