SOUTHERN SECTION BASEBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS : After 21 Years, Demarest Can Say He's No. 1

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dave Demarest, who has haunted La Quinta High School's baseball field for more than two decades, finally had his moment.

He shoved the Southern Section Division III championship plaque into the air and extended his index finger. He was, at last, No. 1.

Demarest, who has coached baseball around the world, finally won a championship in his back yard. The Aztecs gave him one Saturday, with a 3-1 victory over West Torrance in front of 2,400 at Cal State Fullerton's Titan Field.

"I've been here 21 years and we have accomplished a lot of things," Demarest said. "But we have never won the (Southern Section) title. It was like a stigma. I think that's unfair, but that's the way people looked at it."

Not anymore.

On his third trip to a championship game, Demarest got his title. True, it was in doubt until the final out. Anibal Delacruz had to chase down a bases-loaded shot by Derek Nicholson in deep center field with two outs in the seventh, but it was finally his.

Demarest began hugging anyone who would hold still long enough.

"You know, this is not like the Super Bowl or anything like that, but it's great for our school," Demarest said.

And you, Dave?

"Yeah," he said, "it's nice to win one."

Demarest, a former All-American outfielder at Long Beach State, had everything else.

His record at La Quinta is 381-140. He has won nine Garden Grove League titles and qualified for the playoffs 18 times. He has coached national all-star teams in Australia and Europe.

He is well-respected by peers and is colorful--he and his coaching staff sit on milk crates during practices and games because it's comfortable.

Yet, a Southern Section title eluded him.

"Dave is La Quinta," Athletic Director Jim Perry said. "He's out there every day helping kids, whether they're baseball players or not. If ever a coach deserved a championship, it's him."

Demarest has been oh-so close.

In 1979, the Aztecs reached the title game, but were blown out, 9-2, by Lompoc. Last season, La Quinta took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the seventh only to lose, 3-2, to Tustin.

"Coach has done so many things for all of us, I'm glad we were the team that got him the title," said second baseman C.J. Livernois. "He deserves this."

And when will he celebrate?

Monday, Demarest has practice for the Orange County all-star game. Tuesday is the all-star game. Wednesday is La Quinta's banquet. Friday and Saturday he coaches his Connie Mack team.

"Next Sunday," Demarest said. "I'll get time to think about this next Sunday."

He's waited 21 years, he can wait another week.

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