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BASEBALL NOTES: LEAGUE RACES STAY CROWDED.

Byline: Heather Gripp Staff Writer

There are no clear-cut favorites.

A season after having the Foothill and Golden League baseball champions dominate their respective leagues and lose only one league game each, both leagues have multiple contenders entering the final three weeks of the regular season.

In the Golden League, Quartz Hill and Palmdale both entered Friday's games 7-1 in league. Preseason Foothill favorite Canyon is in a race so tight the Cowboys can't be sure they have a secure hold on a postseason berth. Defending Foothill champion Hart went from fourth to within a half game of first within a span of two games and was poised to take over the lead when it faced Canyon on Friday.

``It's exciting,'' Hart shortstop Chris Valaika said after defeating the Cowboys 8-0 on Tuesday. ``(Canyon is) a good team, but they've got to beat us.''

Valencia, making a strong run despite its youth, is close behind, and has two games remaining against Canyon. A recent skid dropped Saugus to fourth place, but if the Centurions return to their first-half form, they could be playoff bound for the first time in at least five years.

The Foothill's strength is evident in the Southern Section rankings. Valencia is ranked No. 4 in Division I. Canyon is No. 2 in Division II, the same division in which Hart is ranked ninth.

--Pivotal point: The turning point to Hart's season, according to Valaika, was last week's 11-9 extra-inning victory over Valencia. The Indians had never lost to the Vikings in 18 meetings before this season but lost the first two this year.

``The morale is a lot better in practice,'' Valaika said. ``Everybody is together now like we were in the beginning of the year. It's so much more fun playing now.''

Teammate J.P. Slauenwhite, who threw the shutout Tuesday against Canyon, agreed.

``We had a pretty rough time coming out of the spring-break tournament,'' Slauenwhite said. ``We were kind of down. The Valencia game, that really kind of picked us up.''

--Role reversal: Canyon left-hander Jake Coash was one of only two pitchers to beat Hart last year. This year, Hart is one of only two teams to beat him. The Indians defeated Coash (5-3) Tuesday for the second time this season. The first time, he appeared in relief and took the loss in extra innings. This week, he started and gave up seven hits in four innings.

--Payback: Jason Cable and his Palmdale teammates got revenge against Highland by defeating the Bulldogs 13-4 on Wednesday. Highland is the only team to beat Palmdale in Golden League play, doing so convincingly (17-1) in the first round of league. Cable, who lost last time, improved to 7-1 by striking out seven in four innings.

The Falcons didn't waste any time taking control. They scored five runs in the first inning with the first five batters getting hits. Matt Monette homered in a 3-for-5 performance. Mike Smith had four hits and Greg Warren and James Martinez added three apiece.

--Perfect performance Quartz Hill senior reliever Ryan Garza has one of the highest earned run averages on the Rebels staff, entering the week at 5.25, but he showed he can shut out opponents when it counts most. He retired all eight batters he faced in last week's game against Lancaster.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 20, 2002
Words:561
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