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Servite's cut is Long Beach State's gain in Huffman

By Tim Tuttle/For Fullertonstories.com --

Laine Huffman, hitting .328 as the starting shortstop for Long Beach State’s No. 8-nationally ranked baseball team, can smile now about being cut from Servite High’s baseball program in his freshman and sophomore years. It was undoubtedly a painful experience, one many athletes would have found so crushing they would have walked away from the sport.

“It wasn’t easy,” Huffman said. “It’s a funny thing that happened and it makes me appreciate everything that is happening. It’s definitely a dream season. I put in all the work I needed. It made me work harder and stay ready. I knew my chance would come.”

Huffman has succeeded at every level. He became an All-CIF second baseman at Valencia High in Placentia in his senior season, setting the school single-season record of 38 steals and becoming MVP of the North-South All-Star game.

“I transferred to Valencia because I wanted to play baseball,” Huffman said. “It has been kind of funny the way it’s worked out. I played basketball at Servite, on the freshman team and the junior varsity as a sophomore, but I was just staying busy. I wanted to play baseball. I played on a travel ball team that didn’t have high school players and wasn’t a high level team, but I was doing what I could do to keep playing.”

Huffman had a few college scholarship offers, but he had his sights set on Long Beach and NCAA Division I baseball.

“I could have played at (NCAA) D3 or NAIA, but Long Beach State was where I grew up wanting to play,” Huffman said.

Huffman opted for Fullerton College, where he was an All-Orange Conference second baseman for two seasons. He batted .307 during his freshman season and .333 with 47 runs scored, 33 RBIs and 16 stolen bases.

“Fullerton College gave me the opportunity to go to a place I’d always dreamed about playing,” Huffman said.

Huffman had the athletic talent to get to Long Beach.

“Laine Huffman’s great speed gives him an added threat as a hitter,” Fullerton College coach Nick Fuscardo said. “His ability to bunt for a base hit keeps the infielders closer to home plate and, therefore, creates large gaps in the 5-6 (third base to short) and 3-4 (first base to second) holes. His speed also gives him the definite edge in turning a single into a double. He is valuable as a hitter due to a good ‘eye’ and working the count.”

Huffman opened this season at third base, for one game, and then found himself in a position battle with Markus Montelongo for the starting shortstop job. Montelongo left the team for “personal reasons” according to a school spokesman and Huffman moved into shortstop full time.

“About 25 games into the season, we lost our shortstop (Montelongo) and I got the opportunity to play,” Huffman said. “I tried to make the most of the opportunity.”

This is Huffman’s first season playing shortstop. He played second base at Valencia and Fullerton. At Valencia, he arrived for a junior year to find Coby Kauhaauaa entrenched. Kauhaauaa had committed to Cal State Fullerton in his freshman season and is redshirting this year. At Fullerton, Justin Row was the starter for two seasons and is a junior at the University of South Carolina.

Long Beach had recruited Huffman as a shortstop. It was the position he wanted to play.

“I’m doing a really good job at shortstop,” Huffman said. ‘I hadn’t played it and I knew I would have to adjust to it. It’s more of a natural position for me, the position I always wanted to play. I have a good arm and can cover a lot of ground.”

Fuscardo says Huffman has all the tools to be an outstanding shortstop.

“Laine has great speed which allows him to cover ground and his hands are soft,” Fuscardo said “If a ball is hit to him, he will catch and throw. If a ball is hit to the hole, Laine has the gift of a strong arm and will readily make the tough play.”

Huffman has started 36 games, played in 42. He has two home runs and 24 RBIs, is 4-4 stealing and has a .405 on-base percentage.

Most importantly, the Dirtbags are 15-3 in the Big West and lead Cal State Fullerton by three games with six to play. Long Beach is 32-16-1 overall.

Long Beach hosts Hawaii in a three-game Big West Series Friday, Saturday and Sunday and closes out the regular season next weekend, May 25-27—Thursday, Friday and Saturday--in a three-game conference series at arch-rival Cal State Fullerton.

“This weekend is huge for us,” Huffman said.

This has been Huffman’s breakout season at shortstop. He loves to play, period.

“The thing for me was to play as much as possible,” he explained. “I think I’m a gamer and I’ve worked hard. I’ve had a lot of great coaches. It’s a combination that makes you into a better player. When you want to play, you just have to keep working hard.”

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