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High Heat

by Alan Matthews
March 24, 2005

West Coast Parity Makes For Close Contests

One of high school baseball’s most celebrated winning streaks came to an end when Chatsworth (Calif.) High dropped a 4-3 decision to Hart High of Newhall, Calif.

Chatsworth had won a California record 54 consecutive games, dating back to April 2003. They are the only team to finish No. 1 in the Baseball America/National High School Baseball Coaches Association poll in consecutive years (2003 and 2004).

“I told the guys before the game that we had a chance to do something you can forever remember,” Hart coach Jim Ozella said. “We have the opportunity to step forward and see what you’re made of.”

Hart scored twice in the third inning, keyed by a pair of triples, and twice again in the fifth to claim a 4-1 lead. Chatsworth sophomore shortstop Mike Moustakas homered in the seventh to cut the lead to 4-3 before sophomore righthander Donnie Williams closed out the game and snapped the Chancellors’ streak.

“It’s pretty amazing what the teams were able to accomplish, and I don’t know if that really sinks in until a few years from now,” Chatsworth coach Tom Meusborn said. “But it wasn’t something that we were talking about and trying to prolong. We were just approaching each game, and winning each one. Obviously it was disappointing for it to end, but we kept it in perspective and just went back to work the next day.”

Chatsworth dropped to 4-1 and slipped five spots in the BA/NHSBCA poll to No. 14.

Hart leadoff hitter Matt Valaika, a junior shortstop and brother of UC Santa Barbara shortstop Chris Valaika, went 3-for-4 with a double, triple and stolen base for the Indians.

The win gave Hart the title in the inaugural Easton Southern California Showdown at UCLA’s Jackie Robinson Stadium, capping a weekend that included a 9-1 victory over El Camino Real of Woodland Hills, Calif. Hart, which finished ranked No. 13 in 2001, then dropped its conference opener.

Blow For Blow

The week showed the parity in one of the nation’s strongest states for high school baseball. The latest Top 25 features four California schools, but only San Diego’s Rancho Bernardo High had an unblemished record, even though California schools were just three weeks into their season.

Clovis West was 12-1 and moved into the top 10 with wins in each of its first 10 games, including a 5-4 victory over archrival Clovis to claim the title in the 12-team Coca-Cola Classic in Northern California.

Clovis West senior shortstop J.J. Jelmini slapped a triple down the right-field line to lead off the bottom of the seventh inning, then scored the game-winning run on an infield grounder.

The margin for error this spring has been razor thin, as Clovis West discovered less than a week later when it lost a conference game to San Jose’s Central High 1-0 on a late-inning suicide squeeze.

Jelmini, who has committed to Stanford, is one of three major-college signees on the Clovis West roster. Utilityman Jameson Smith committed to Clemson, and Eagles ace righthander Mike Colla, who went 3-1, 0.91 with 34 strikeouts and four walks in 23 innings, is bound for Arizona.

While Clovis West won the first meeting with Clovis (12-2), Clovis will have its chance at payback. The two teams play three more times in conference games, and possibly again in the postseason. Clovis, which finished No. 2 in the final poll in 1997, No. 3 in 1998 and No. 27 in 2003, pulled senior righthander Ryan Cook in the fifth inning of the tournament finale, but he and Colla should hook up for an intriguing sequel between the two schools, which are less than five miles apart.

“They are two of the best (pitchers in Northern California),” Clovis coach James Patrick said. “Those two have good command of three pitches and outstanding fastballs. You see a lot of radar guns pop up when they’re pitching, that’s for sure.”

Cook, who has committed to Southern California and was 3-0, 0.78 with five walks and 24 strikeouts in 18 innings, has touched 93 mph with his fastball and has a projectable, 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame. He pitched fewer than 20 innings as a junior because of a Clovis pitching staff that was loaded with more experienced arms, but his showing last summer on the showcase circuit as well as this spring has boosted his stock.

“There’s just something about this guy’s arm speed,” said an American League scout. “I think if he doesn’t click this year, he’s just the kind of guy who could hit in three years (out of college). The kind of guy where you might pay now (to sign him), but you might really pay later.”

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Colla offers more polish than Cook, and also pitches in the high 80s, touching 92 mph.

“Colla is a durable, strong kid who possesses three pitches,” the scout said. “The fact he can throw a breaking ball for a strike in high school and you’re aggressive with your fastball . . . that combination means he should probably go right through high school hitters.”

Still Streaking

La Cueva High of Albuquerque won its first nine games, extending its winning streak to 67 games—one shy of the national high school record of 68 consecutive wins set by New York’s Archbishop Malloy from 1963-66.

La Cueva's next game was scheduled for March 29. With a win, the Bears could eclipse the record in the first game of a doubleheader scheduled for April 2.

"We haven't talked about it much but the kids aren't stupid," La Cueva coach Stan McKeever said. "They know it's there and the pressure has been mounting. I can sense their nerves."

La Cueva, which climbed into the Baseball America/National High School Baseball Coaches Association Top 25 at No. 24, entered the season riding a 58-game winning streak and back-to-back final top 10 rankings. But the Bears lost to of their top three pitchers from last year's squad and have played several of the state's top teams in the early stages of the season, adding intrigue to the remarkable run.

Makeup Mending

Approximately 40 scouts arrived at Poly High in Long Beach to see a doubleheader and get a better look at Poly senior outfielder DeSean Jackson.

But Jackson, who was benched earlier in the season for missing practice, failed to show for the games. He said he was tending to family business, and following a talk with his coach, returned to the team.

Jackson was rated as the nation’s No. 47 high school prospect entering the season. A two-sport star who has committed to California to play football and baseball, he is considered the best all-around athlete in this year’s high school class.

He’s also the latest in a long line of talented athletes at Poly High, which has produced Tony Gwynn, Milton Bradley and New England Patriots linebacker Willie McGinest, to name a few.

Poly coach Bill Rowell said Jackson had shown an improved attitude. After starting the season 0-for-9, Jackson singled and scored twice when he returned to the team and was 1-for-13 overall.

“He had a couple of pretty good practices,” Rowell said. “DeSean has some very good ability to do things. He has actually been working hard these past couple of days. His reaction has been much better, actually.”

Around The Nation

• Matchups between aspiring major leaguers occur daily in California, but a showdown between a pair of big leaguers from the past took top billing recently. Former Royals teammates Bret Saberhagen and Mark Gubicza faced off as coaches, with Gubicza’s Chaminade High of West Hills edging Saberhagen’s Calabasas High 5-2.

• Key West (Fla.) High inched up the rankings to No. 6 thanks to a gutty effort from senior catcher Ralph Henriquez. During a 2-0, eight-inning win over Archbishop Carroll High, Henriquez was vomiting in the dugout from a case of food poisoning, but stayed in the game and even threw out a baserunner at second base in the seventh inning.

• An incessant debate in high school circles is which region boasts the best baseball. The recent Wesminster Academy March Madness Tournament in Fort Lauderdale provided additional fodder for the debate. A Texas team, Houston Christian High swept four games to take the title, including a 7-0 blanking of Tate High of Cantonment, Fla.,--on of the Sunshine State’s perennial powers--in the semifinals. Houston Christian lefthander/outfielder Ryan Lollis picked up tournament MVP honors, thanks in part to a 17-strikeout performance versus Tate.

• Columbus (Ga.) High brought home this year’s LaGrange Invitational title. Columbus defeated LaGrange (Ga.) High 17-10 in the championship game. The finals featured two of four teams in the eight-team field that won state titles in their respective classifications in 2004. Auburn signee Brandon Monk of LaGrange was 6-for-10 with two home runs, two doubles and eight RBIs in the tournament. Columbus righthander/first baseman Iain Sebastian, who committed to Georgia, tossed seven shutout innings and picked up a win.

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