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CAVALIERS ARE REBORN UNDER CASCIONE.

Byline: VINCENT BONSIGNORE

Something special has been brewing at Cleveland High lately. A school so often considered an afterthought in baseball has bogarted its way into the company of the elite under third-year coach Joe Cascione and a group of gritty players.

The Cavaliers of Reseda, champions of the City Division last year, are aiming for bigger things this season, setting their sights on the City Championship playoffs. And they don't want to just get invited, they seriously think they can win it.

Chatsworth, El Camino Real of Woodland Hills and Kennedy of Granada Hills have carried the baseball flag around these parts the past decade or so, and the Cavaliers are hoping this is the year they can represent the region at Dodger Stadium on championship night.

If confidence counts for anything, Cleveland has just as good a shot as anyone. The three-year reclamation project under Cascione, a demanding, no-nonsense skipper who instilled pride and work ethic upon his arrival, is on the brink of reaping serious rewards. He believes that and so do his players.

``We think we're ready to take that next step,'' said Cavaliers ace pitcher Byron Grubman, who shut down Calabasas on Thursday to send Cleveland to Saturday's Daily News Invitational championship final against Alemany of Mission Hills. The Cavaliers won 8-3.

``We've worked hard for the things we've gotten so far. Now we want to see how much further we can take it.''

Pride is the basis for everything Cascione has done, starting with the field Cleveland plays on to the uniforms the Cavaliers wear and the way they go about their work, day in a day out.

Before Cascione arrived, Cleveland's field was one of the worst in the area, so bad that some Cleveland baseball players left for schools that took things like playing fields and appearance more seriously than the Cavaliers.

Cascione, a stickler for details, took one look at the crummy playing conditions and decided change was in order. He knew he couldn't ask his guys to have faith in him or the school they played for if they couldn't even stomach the field they called home. So Cascione did something about it, sprucing up the place with a complete makeover.

Three years later the Cavaliers play on one of the nicer diamonds in the region, proving self-esteem is a key component to playing like champions. It's a whole lot easier to work a little harder when you actually care about where you play.

``We have a principle around here, and that's preparation plus confidence equals success,'' Cascione said. ``That's our motto and these kids really work hard. Their work ethic is second to none.''

All you have to do is watch the way the Cavaliers take infield to understand how serious they take their work, and in turn the game itself.

Everything is crisp and in rhythm, like a well-choreographed dance routine, and you seldom see any wasted movement or energy. Even the Cavaliers' body language is serious and businesslike. They're having fun, but they also know they have a job to do. The objective is to win and they act like that's exactly what they expect to do.

The success came quickly. The first year under Cascione, the Cavaliers finished better than .500. A year later they went 23-11, then eased through the City Division playoffs, winning the championship game at Dodger Stadium behind Grubman's pitching gem and the leadership of Robert Marcial.

In winning the championship, the Cavaliers whet their appetite for even greater success.

Cascione noticed a renewed sense of spirit during the offseason, and it's carried over to the regular season.''

``It shows this year and I think the confidence is there,'' Cascione said. ``Their work ethic in the fall and the preparation is finally starting to come through. They're starting to believe in the system and it's pretty exciting to see. It's really exciting as a coach to see young players work on things in practice and then go out in the game and execute it.''

Last year's achievements had an immediate impact. The returning players had set a new standard for themselves, and highly regarded newcomers like transfers Mando Contreras (Crespi of Encino) and Billy Spottiswood (Palmdale) knew they were coming into a special situation. They all wanted to build on what was established a year ago.

``We want to expand it,'' Grubman said. ``More people have heard of us, more people are coming here. We've got a great young class behind us. We're building something special.''

Not that Grubman is concerning himself with anything beyond this year. Obviously he wants the success to continue after he leaves later this year, but for now all his focus is on the current season. He'd like nothing more than to leave with a City Championship title.

``This is a special year for us,'' Grubman said. ``We all knew it since the summer. Now we want to carry it through. We're excited.''

They should be.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Mar 10, 2002
Words:829
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