Lakewood Roars To Lions Title

SoCal Easter tournament finale features two of the nation's top catchers

ANAHEIM--At the same time the Phil Nevin National Classic was being held at various fields in Fullerton and Placentia, the 33rd annual Anaheim Lions Tournament was being played in Anaheim.

A three-day, 33-team event that features five games for each team didn't offer the national appeal of the Classic, but with more than handful of Southern California's best squads suiting up, there was an intriguing game to be found at all hours of the day at any given high school field in Northern Orange County.

After four games of the Lions tournament, Lakewood High, the defending California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division I champion, and El Toro High (Lake Forest, Calif.) were the two undefeated teams that had allowed the fewest number of runs, earning them a berth in the championship game at Glover Stadium in Anaheim.

Several hundred fans and more than 50 scouts bundled up on a blustery evening to watch two top teams and two high-profile catching prospects square off. Lakewood Travis d'Arnaud and El Toro's Austin Romine kept the running game in check, and d'Arnaud took care of the outcome with his bat.

The 6-foot, 180-pound d'Arnaud has been the high school senior that has taken the biggest step forward this spring in the eyes of many So Cal scouts. His assent was punctuated with a two-run blast into the bleachers beyond the left-field fence in the third inning that gave Lakewood a 4-1 lead.

It was d'Arnaud's second home run of the tournament, and the younger brother of the Pepperdine sophomore third baseman Chase d'Arnaud drove in nine runs in five games and was named to the all-tournament team. He was known mostly for his prowess behind the plate, but he's been just as impressive at it this spring, batting .409-5-34 in 71 at-bats.

Lakewood coach Spud O'Neil compares d'Arnaud with two of his former players, DamionEasley and Chris Gomez, and has reveled in his success this season. "I'm just so proud of him," O'Neil said. "He started out fairly slow, although he's been driving in a lot of runs, but now it's hard to get him out."

Lakewood 6-3 win over El Toro vaulted them to No. 9 in the latest BA/NHSBCA Top 50, and gave the Lancers a shot of confidence entering the postseason.

"The Lions Tournament has turned into one of the best in the spring all across the country, I think, because of the types of teams that are in there," O'Neill said. "We're always trying to improve late in the season, and with the teams we had to play, I think we did that."