With his team’s victory in the CIF 2-A Division baseball championship game last week, Diamond Bar High Coach Denis Paul could be the subject of a trivia question.
Paul is the only person in the CIF who has coached his last two baseball teams to championships.
The catch is that it didn’t happen the last two years.
The first title came in 1982 when Paul guided Walnut to the CIF 4-A crown.
What was Paul doing between championships?
After the first title, Paul left Walnut to become the first athletic director at neighboring Diamond Bar when the school opened in 1983. Last year he said stepped down as athletic director to concentrate on teaching.
But Paul said he missed coaching and jumped at an opportunity to coach this season.
Plenty of Veteran Talent
Paul is the first to admit that he inherited a pretty good team.
With almost all of Diamond Bar’s players returning from the previous year, when it finished second in the Hacienda League and lost to Irvine in the first round of the 2-A playoffs, it was a season to remember for Paul and the Brahmas, who finished 27-2.
“I thought they had the physical talent to win it and they had the experience,” Paul said. “They had been together for three years but hadn’t really been together as a unit. This season the seniors finally started to exert their leadership. They didn’t do that before.”
Paul was concerned that his seniors might become complacent after Diamond Bar’s football team, which included several key members of the baseball team, rolled to a 14-0 record and the CIF Southeastern Conference championship in December.
As it turned out, that was never a problem.
“The thing that I was pleased about is that after we won the first championship, the kids were willing to go back out and work to win another,” Paul said. “There’s a tendency for seniors to let up after they win one championship and say, ‘Hey, we won our championship.’ But they didn’t.”
Players who started for both the football and baseball teams were senior pitcher Rich Gonzales, senior first baseman Tony Scrofini, junior shortstop and pitcher Kraig Washington and junior center fielder Larry Vladic, and all played important roles in Diamond Bar’s success.
Gonzales Starred on Mound, at Bat
Gonzales, quarterback of the Brahmas who will play for Oregon State in the fall, posted an 11-1 pitching record with 83 strikeouts in 79 innings and a 1.94 earned-run average. He batted .423 with 5 home runs and 39 runs batted in.
Washington, an outstanding running back, led Diamond Bar in hitting with a .471 average, 3 home runs and 37 runs batted in and posted a 3-1 record with 7 saves and a 1.25 earned-run average as a relief pitcher. Scrofini hit .325 and Vladic .338.
Other seniors who were standouts in the title drive were third baseman Bill Beeman, who batted .418 and drove in 36 runs; catcher Casey Bresnehan (.369, 41 RBIs) and pitcher Ken Schaffer, who was 9-0 with a 2.56 ERA.
Paul said pitching depth and defense had a lot to do with Diamond Bar’s success but may not have been the biggest factors.
“If it had to be one factor it would be strength,” Paul said. “We have a very good strength coach (Bruce McNeil), and he’s had the players for three years and it’s starting to pay off.
“When he started a few years ago, these kids were playing a varsity schedule and were getting eaten alive. But it wasn’t long before we started winning, and he has a lot to do with it.”
Paul said McNeil, who works on conditioning with Detroit Tigers catcher Lance Parrish during the off-season, has helped improve his team’s strength, nutrition and mental attitude.
The Brahmas certainly looked strong this season, posting a 14-0 league record and winning their final 15 games.
Diamond Bar easily won its first two playoff games over Rosemead (28-1) and Victor Valley (11-4) and won by one run in each of the final three against Newport Harbor, Norte Vista and Mission Viejo. The Brahmas beat Mission Viejo in the final, 3-2.
Diamond Bar was not the only San Gabriel Valley team to win a CIF baseball title last week.
San Dimas won its first CIF baseball championship by beating Montview League rival Baldwin Park, 5-4, for the 1-A title.
It was the third straight victory for San Dimas over Baldwin Park this season. The Saints, who had never beaten the Braves before this season, defeated Baldwin Park twice, 3-2 and 9-7, during the regular season.
It also marked the third time in four years that a Montview League team has won the 1-A title. Baldwin Park took the title in 1982 and Azusa won in 1983 before San Marino of the Rio Hondo League won in 1984.