skip navigation

Sea Kings celebrate alumni and '81 CIF title team

By Richard Dunn, 03/03/16, 1:15PM PST


Even though 60 mph gusts recently knocked down part of the Corona del Mar High baseball scoreboard that spotlights the school’s three CIF Southern Section championships, there was a grand celebration of Sea Kings past, present and future Saturday at the Corona del Mar alumni game and barbecue.

And before the heroics on the field from alumni, including long-traveled efforts from members of Corona del Mar’s first CIF title team 35 years ago, there was a glimpse of a bright future in the program.

As Corona del Mar Booster Club President John McCarthy addressed the crowd to begin the event, he attempted to inspire many of the current players to continue working hard on their baseball yearbook advertising sales (each player is required to pony up $1,300, either through ads or donation).

“That’s so you can play on the nicest field in Southern California, and a mound that rivals the (San Diego) Padres,” said McCarthy, who added that by next year the backstop will be moved up 9 feet closer to home plate to make room for additional seating, creating “a state-of-the-art” facility.

McCarthy introduced Corona del Mar coach John Emme, whose speech was brief, but noteworthy. “John said our mound rivals the Padres, but I think we have a better pitching staff,” said Emme, whose 2016 hurlers will be led by Cal State Fullerton-bound Evan Larsen and heavily recruited sophomore left-hander Chazz Martinez.

While Emme is hopeful this year’s team will win the program’s fourth CIF championship and provide updated material for the reconstruction of the scoreboard, alumni players flexed their muscles in an impressive display of power as the 2003-2015 Sea Kings defeated players from 1963-2002, 14-6.

For the 2003-15 squad, left-handed slugger Nik Palchikoff, who played on the Sea Kings’ 2004 CIF championship team, delivered a three-run home run over the wall in right field to highlight a seven-run second inning.

“That felt good – I was pumped,” said Palchikoff, who turned on a 1-0 fastball on the inside half of the plate. “I was ready for it.”

With one out in the top of the sixth and ’81 graduate Larry Lagano on the mound facing 2015 grad Teddy Stuka, a pitch bounced on its way to home plate, but was called a strike by plate umpire Randy Gersten, who later quipped, “I always wanted to do that.” On the next pitch, however, Stuka had the last laugh as he tomahawked a ball that landed on the base of the wall in center field, 350 feet away. “I thought it had a chance to go out,” said the 6-foot-7 Stuka, who will play next season at UC San Diego as a pitcher.

In the first inning, Stuka started the onslaught for the young guys with a solid single and scoring the game’s first run. In the bottom of the first, Stuka fired a bullet from right field to catcher Clark Cashin (’11) to nail Aaron Harper at the plate. Harper (’05) is an assistant coach on the Sea Kings’ frosh/soph team.

Five players from the ’81 championship team returned for a 35-year reunion, including pitcher Ken Santoro, who lives in Houston, and Gordon Moss, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and served as the designated hitter in 1981, before batting .509 and .551 his junior and senior years, respectively, as the Sea Kings’ second baseman in ’82 and ’83.

Brent Melbon (’82) and catcher Rob Murar (’81) joined Lagano, Santoro and Moss at the alumni game in representing Sea Kings from the first of three CIF titles (Corona del Mar also won titles in 1999 and ’04).

In Corona del Mar baseball lore, Santoro famously was the surprise starting pitcher in the 1981 CIF 2-A championship game against Santa Fe Springs. Former Corona del Mar coach Tom Trager gave the ball to Santoro instead of Jeff Pries, the CIF 2-A Player of the Year who was drafted by Toronto out of high school, pitched at UCLA and was drafted in the first round by the New York Yankees in 1984, before an arm injury in the minors cut his career short.

Mark Hatfield (’99), Ryan Achterberg (’98), Cavin Cuyler (’01) and Bryson Groat (’94) also played for the old guys in the alumni game, while Mitch Sands (’09), Jake Amoroso (’08), Steve Manning (’09), Taylor Storm (’05) and former Vanguard University pitcher Nick Peterson (’06) also played for the young guys. Storm was a home run shy of hitting for the cycle.

Manning, who pitched for the first time since having shoulder surgery a year ago, worked five solid innings on the mound to earn the game ball. “My arm felt good,” Manning said. “It would just get tired and stiff (between innings), but nothing crazy. The long innings were tough, and running the bases was no fun.”

Santoro pitched, played third base and right field, but his best contribution might have been his coverage of home plate on a third-strike passed ball with the bases loaded and two out. After getting the throw from catcher Murar, Santoro applied a perfect tag to record the third inning’s final out. As for his pitching performance, Santoro said “those three hit batters hurt me more than them.”

Richard Dunn is a sports writer who lives in Newport Beach. He’s a coach of multiple sports and a former pro baseball player.

Contact him at