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FAST START ON OFFENSE CARRIES GRANADA HILLS G. HILLS 4, GRANT 3.

Byline: Chris Cocoles Staff Writer

An endless and almost winless summer later, Granada Hills High figured out it could field a competitive baseball team.

``We had a tough time,'' shortstop Steve Braun said. ``But as long as we'd battle tough, we'd come out of it. We showed it in winter ball.''

That was in a game against Saugus, long before the Highlanders thought about winning a big season-opening game such as Wednesday's 4-3 decision over visiting Grant of Van Nuys in the Daily News Invitational.

``We were horrible in the summer. We won two games,'' said Highlanders coach Steve Thompson, who promised a clean slate for the fall. ``We were playing Saugus and were down 14-0 after an inning and a half. At the end of four, it's 16-16.''

So the 1-0 deficit Granada Hills (1-0) faced when Grant's (0-1) Gilbert Carmona hit a first-inning solo homer wasn't a big deal. The Highlanders wasted no time, Braun tripling to open the bottom of the first. He scored on a Derek Perren double, and Jordan Gold made it 3-1 with a home run.

``It was a big momentum swing,'' said Braun, carrying on the role of team sparkplug that his older brother Ryan held last season before he moved on to play collegiately at Miami. Braun's solo shot in the second turned out to be the game-winner.

The Highlanders needed that fourth run because Lancers starter Jeremy Harrison settled into a groove after the big hits by Braun, Perren and Gold.

``(Harrison) was pitching like he can pitch later in the game,'' Grant coach Jeremy Lawrence said.

And the Lancers, frustrated by several missed opportunities, pulled to within a run by the fifth against a jittery reliever.

``When I got out there and (catcher Ryan Goodman) told me to just throw strikes, I told him, `I'm so nervous.' I was shaking,'' said Frank Neglio, a sophomore promoted to the varsity two weeks ago when the pitching staff's depth took a hit.

He balked the tying run to second, and fell behind 3-0 but worked a full count as Raul Vega assumed the at-bat because of an injury.

``(Braun) came out and told me (Vega) was stiff and to just throw a strike because he wasn't going to hit it,'' said Neglio, who completed the strikeout and then threw two perfect innings to earn the save for starter Chris Tawil.

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

Grant High of Van Nuys pitcher Jeremy Harrison settled down after allowing four runs in the first two innings, but it wasn't enough for the Lancers.

Gene Blevins/Special to the Daily News
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 6, 2003
Words:435
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