Twenty-one years ago, many people told John Emme to stay away from Corona del Mar High. He said they told him that CdM was a really difficult place to coach.
Emme took the baseball coaching job anyway.
The difficult part for Emme came Tuesday, when he had to say goodbye to the Sea Kings after leading them for 21 years.
Emme coached his final game at CdM, a 3-1 loss to No. 3-seeded Yucaipa in the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division 2 playoffs. Afterward, when the Sea Kings met in left field, Emme couldn't talk. He was that choked up, even though he announced his retirement two months ago.
All Emme, 54, said to his players was, "Thank you."
The Sea Kings also thanked Emme, who led the program to two section titles, six league titles and 335 wins during his time in charge. The victories and championships aren't what matter to Emme, it's the number of lives the program has impacted over the years.
"The fact is that there are amazing people here, there are amazing kids, and I've been rewarded. I wouldn't trade any of it," said Emme, who will continue to teach at CdM. "I just want to thank the players and parents."
A big crowd turned out for the Sea Kings' first appearance in the second round in nine years.
Chazz Martinez started on the mound for CdM, and the left-hander was involved in a pitchers' duel with Yucaipa's Vincent Alvarez. Through three innings, Martinez struck out five and allowed one hit, while Alvarez gave up one hit and struck out one.
The fourth inning is when Martinez ran into some trouble. It wasn't the leadoff walk he issued to Anthony Gibbons that came back to bite Martinez, as catcher Nick Rottler threw out Gibbons on a delayed steal to second base. The No. 3 and No. 5 hitters are the ones that hurt Martinez, a UC Santa Barbara signee.
The left-handed hitting Michael Carpentier doubled down the left-field line. Then with two outs, Jordan Andrade lined a two-run home run over the fence in left-center field, giving Yucaipa a 2-0 lead.
"It was a 2-2 count, so I was just sitting [on] a fastball," said Andrade, a sophomore committed to the University of Washington. "It was a fastball, middle up, and I [took] advantage of it. Right when it left my bat, I already knew it was going [out for a homer]."
The shot was enough to send the Thunderbirds (25-5) to the quarterfinals, where they will travel to play Crescenta Valley (25-4) on Friday. Crescenta Valley defeated host Fountain Valley 5-3 in the second round on Tuesday.
Martinez tried to change that scenario.
For a second, it seemed like the senior would give CdM (20-7) the lead in the bottom of the fifth. With two runners on and two outs, Martinez hit a towering shot to left field, only to see Gibbons catch it right next to the fence.
"I thought that was going out," said Martinez, who went the other way with the pitch. "I got all of it."
It wasn't enough for Martinez (4-1), who struck out nine, gave up five hits, walked two and hit one, to keep the Sea Kings' season alive.
Alvarez (7-3) went 5 2/3 innings, using his splitter to slow down the Sea Kings. The hosts managed to cut the deficit to 2-1 on Reece Berger's run-scoring single to center field in the sixth.
But Yucaipa added a run in the seventh on reliever Tommy Wilcox's throwing error to first base. With the Thunderbirds bringing in ace Tyson Heaton, their two-run lead appeared safe. The BYU commit got the four-out save, striking out two batters swinging in the process.
"We've been fortunate to end two seasons on a win," said Emme, referring to the 1999 and 2004 seasons, when he guided the Sea Kings to Division IV titles. "But most people end [their season] on a loss. I'm just absorbing this year right now. It hasn't really hit me yet [that I'm retiring].
"I've been in this game [as a player and coach] for 46 years. Now I get to be like a grandpa and go watch my grandchildren [play]. I get to see [UCLA-bound senior] J.T. [Schwartz], Chazz and [USC-bound senior] Preston [Hartsell] next year [in college]. I'm going to keep enjoying the game."