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GOOD KNIGHTS NOW: ST. FRANCIS IS FAN-TASTIC.

Byline: HEATHER GRIPP Staff Writer

LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE - Someone gave Mike Solar a league championship patch from St. Francis of La Canada Flintridge's 1981 baseball season. Solar, the Golden Knights' fifth-year coach, keeps it in his bedroom as a reminder of how long the program has hungered for a title.

St. Francis might not have to wait much longer.

With just two weeks left in the regular season, the Golden Knights are contending for the Mission League title and have emerged as one of the area's hottest teams. St. Francis enters today's game against Alemany of Mission Hills with 13 consecutive victories and an 18-2 record.

"It feels good," said senior infielder/pitcher Christian Bergman. "We're even starting to get some fans. It's cool. We actually have guys at our games sort of heckling the other team."

The Golden Knights had a hard time building a fan base when there was little to cheer about. It's been 25 years since their last league title, and they haven't qualified for the playoffs since 2001. This season's success stems from a core group of veterans who have mixed well with newcomers to form one of the most selfless and dedicated teams Solar has coached.

"Nobody is out for good of themselves," Solar said. "They just want to win ballgames. It really is a special group. It's very unique. I'll certainly cherish what's going on now. It's kind of a once-in-a-lifetime type ballclub, they're such great kids and so easy to coach.

"The last couple years, we'd been taking small steps, but moving in the right direction. This year, I felt we'd be able to take the next step and have a chance to contend, but I'd be a fool to sit here and say I thought we'd be having the type of season we are."

At the heart of the team are Bergman, senior first baseman Taylor Smale, senior outfielder Evan Simonitsch, junior infielder Joe DePinto and junior pitcher Luke Collis. All are returning starters from the team that went 12-13 last year.

Smale leads the Golden Knights with 34 hits. DePinto has 32 hits and 26 runs. Simonitsch has 30 hits and is batting .688 with runners in scoring position.

Smale and Simonitsch were co-MVPs of last week's Astascadero tournament after leading St. Francis to the championship.

Bergman, a two-time first-team all-league selection who has signed with UC Irvine, is 5-1 with a 0.82 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 34 innings. Collis is 5-0 with a 1.23 ERA.

"It's really hard to differentiate between those five, because they've all done so much," Solar said.

The veterans noticed a refreshingly different atmosphere at the start of the season.

"I think a big part of it is we've really jelled together as a team this year," said Collis, a third-year varsity player. "We all do stuff together. We really didn't do that in the past."

Team updates have been included in student bulletins, and classmates are asking about the games, and that has fueled the Golden Knights' determination to keep improving.

Those who were around last year remember how the team started strong in league play but slid out of playoff contention in the closing weeks. Although it was a monumental achievement to sweep defending Mission co-champion Chaminade of West Hills, a team this group of players had never beaten, St. Francis knows its toughest opponents are the final two. The Golden Knights' remaining series are against Loyola of Los Angeles and Crespi of Encino, also in the hunt for the title.

"We knew this year was going to be different," Bergman said. "We have higher expectations this year."

heather.gripp@dailynews.com

(818) 713-3607

OAKS' KEYS TO SUCCESS

Oaks Christian of Westlake Village freshman Brent Keys began the year as the 14/15-year-old winner in the national NFL Punt, Pass and Kick competition. He appears to be just as good on the baseball field, leading Oaks Christian in several offensive categories although he is the only freshman on the roster.

``He's a great athlete,'' Lions coach Mike Maio said. ``He's very quick, and he's got a good baseball sense. He knows what he's doing.''

Keys, a 5-foot-11, 165-pound center fielder, was a single shy of the cycle Tuesday, when he hit a two-run home run, two triples and a double in a 15-4 romp over Nordhoff of Ojai.

``He's had several games like that,'' Maio said. ``He's leading the team.''

Keys is batting a team-high .475, with three home runs, six triples, a .951 slugging percentage and .565 on-base percentage. He was successful in his first 19 stolen-base attempts of the season.

Oaks Christian is closing in on the Frontier League title. The Lions, ranked sixth in Southern Section Div. V, are 8-0 in league play entering today's rematch with Nordhoff. That's two more victories than Oaks Christian posted in league play last season, when it advanced to the Div. V semifinals.

HOMER HAPPY

Chatsworth junior shortstop Mike Moustakas created a log jam at the top of the school's career home run chart when he hit his 24th Monday against Birmingham of Lake Balboa.

He shares the record with junior teammate Matt Dominguez and former Chancellor Jason Dominguez, Matt's brother.

Matt Dominguez equalled his brother's mark last week with a walk-off grand slam against El Camino Real of Woodland Hills. The blast moved him past his brother for the team career RBIs record.

Monday's home run was Moustakas' eighth in nine games and his 10th of the season, two shy of the school single-season record he set last year.

The Chancellors' power surge gave them 29 home runs through 23 games - nowhere close to the school-record 49 hit in 2004.

LEAGUE UPDATES

FOOTHILL

Canyon senior outfielder John Hay hit his league-leading 10th home run Wednesday in a 1-0 victory over Burroughs of Burbank. Hay is batting .383 with 24 RBIs.

GOLDEN

Quartz Hill can clinch a share of its fifth consecutive title when it faces Palmdale today. This week's series between the Rebels and second-place Falcons brings together some of the area's top hitters: Palmdale's Trevor Bloom (.579) and Tyreace House (.532) and Quartz Hill's Calvin Culver (.549). Eight starters on the rosters are hitting better than .450. Culver hit two of Quartz Hill's four homers Wednesday in a 17-6 rout of the Falcons.

LIBERTY

First-place Viewpoint of Calabasas remained undefeated in league by beating Providence of Burbank 13-1 Tuesday. Spencer Brown contributed three hits and struck out eight in five innings for the win. The victory was the Patriots' eighth this season, leaving coach Frank Pontello within one of 200 in his career.

--Buckley of Sherman Oaks freshman right-hander Matt Lewis struck out four in four innings Tuesday in a nonleague game against New Community Jewish of West Hills. It was his first varsity win.

MARMONTE

Newbury Park junior Andrew Lambo hit his league-leading 10th home run Wednesday against Calabasas. Newbury Park can clinch the outright league title today with a victory over Thousand Oaks.

--Agoura, ranked No. 1 in the nation last month, dropped out of the Southern Section rankings and are in jeopardy of missing the playoffs. Wednesday's loss to Moorpark was Agoura's fourth in its past five league games.

--Simi Valley is expected to be without closer Frankie Reed the remainder of the season. Reed, who has a school-record seven saves this season, injured his hand during practice Monday.

MISSION

Chaminade of West Hills senior Casey Haerther is contending for the league triple crown. His .540 batting average and 28 RBIs are league highs, and he's second in home runs with six. The UCLA-bound first baseman batted better than .600 at last week's National Classic in Orange County. He had a 5-for-5 performance against Cottonwood of Salt Lake City. Haerther and Nick Halloran were selected for the all-tournament team.

VALLEY MISSION

Sylmar senior John Gomez improved to 7-0 and struck out eight in Wednesday's 11-1 romp over Reseda. Gomez, who has accounted for all but four of the Spartans' wins, was 2 for 2 with a home run as Sylmar climbed to second place, behind Kennedy of Granada Hills.

WEST VALLEY

Chatsworth senior right-hander Josh Ravin, who has been resting his arm the past few weeks, started throwing again this week and is expected to return to the starting rotation next week. Trent Jones, Daniel Simmons and Jonathan O'Leary have filled the void during Ravin's absence, helping the Chancellors remain tied with ECR for first place.

CAPTION(S):

photo, 3 boxes

Photo:

St. Francis has been led by, from left, Christian Bergman, Luke Colis, Joe DePinto, Taylor Smale and Evan Simonitsch.

David Sprague/Staff Photographer

Box:

(1) DAILY NEWS TOP 10

(2) SEVEN-DAY FORECAST

(3) THEY SAID IT

By Heather Gripp
COPYRIGHT 2006 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 28, 2006
Words:1455
Previous Article:HIGH SCHOOL GOLF NOTEBOOK: VIEWPOINT'S NOORI GETS AN EARLY START.
Next Article:TENNIS: H.-W.'S THACHER FACES SHOWDOWN.


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