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HART, VALENCIA FACING STRONG FINISH.

Byline: Gerry Gittelson Columnist

We're halfway through the Foothill League baseball season. That means everyone has played one another once, and Valencia (8-2, 4-1) and Hart (7-4, 4-1) clearly have established themselves as the teams to beat. The rest are all under .500 in league competition and at least two games out of first place.

That should make the last week interesting because Hart and Valencia finish with a two-game series on May 10 at Valencia and May 12 at Hart.

Overall, Hart has been the league's most consistently dominant team through the decades, although up-and-coming Valencia won four league titles in a row before finishing third last season.

Casey Mulligan, Chris Matzner and Justin Shults have carried Valencia through the first month. Mulligan, alternating between third base, catcher and pitcher, is batting .520 with two saves to establish himself as the early Player of the Year candidate.

Taylor Maddox (.481) and Matt Valaika (.433) are among six Hart starters hitting .300 or better. Sophomore left-hander Mike Montgomery is 4-1 with a 3.16 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 31 innings, emerging as the league's most promising young pitcher.

--Two of the Foothill League's most cherished records - most home runs in a baseball season and most wins by a pitcher in a softball season - could fall this year.

In just 10 games, Canyon's Johnny Hay already has six home runs, seven shy of Richie Martin's record of 13 (Valencia, 1999). Canyon has 14 games remaining in the regular season (including four against the Burbank schools), plus the playoffs.

Valencia's Jordan Taylor, who's pitched all but one game and figures to make every start for the rest of the season, has nine victories in 10 decisions with 16 games remaining, plus a total of five playoff games if Valencia returns to the section final.

If Taylor wins every game - not an impossibility considering the right-hander has a 0.16 ERA and Valencia (10-1) has outscored opponents 65-6 - the junior can finish with 30 wins; the Foothill League record of 26 is shared by Hart's Kym Weil (1990) and Hart's Samantha Ford (1984).

--Phil Malinowski, a top kicker and punter for Canyon High's football team this season, has used his legs to carry him in track and field, too. He set a school record of 6-foot-8 in a track meet against Burbank on Friday.

--Just days after committing to play softball at Division II college Ferris State, Valencia catcher Rachel Mueller has quit the team.

--College of the Canyons defensive lineman Jonathan Celestine has committed to Jackson State.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 2, 2006
Words:426
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