This could be Dave Demarest's last year as coach of La Quinta's baseball team.
Yeah, right. Demarest makes noises that he might quit at the end of every season. After all, he's been coaching for 27 years, and won his 500th career game this season.
But if he does choose to retire this year or in the near future--or never--it's doubtful he could leave at a higher level.
The Times Orange County coach of the year had the county's top-ranked team, which roared to a 30-2 record, won a sixth consecutive Garden Grove League title and reached the Southern Section Division IV title game.
It was the fourth Division final La Quinta has appeared in during the past six seasons. The Aztecs won championships in 1994 and 1995.
There were other worthy candidates. La Habra's Mate Borgogno guided the Highlanders to their first Freeway League title since 1988. Aliso Niguel's Mike Chapman prodded the Wolverines to their first Pacific Coast League title. Mike Curran got a nondescript Esperanza team back to the Division I title game.
But during a season in which county teams seemed to be playing on a more even field and league distinctions seemed more blurred, La Quinta stood out like the New York Yankees.
"I'm honored," Demarest said. "To win, your team had to have a great year. And we definitely have had a great year."
But, again, great years have been commonplace at La Quinta in the 1990s. Last year's team finished 25-5, but lost in the section quarterfinals.
"In those five losses, two were in extra innings and the other three were by one run," Demarest said of his 1997 team.
"[This year] we had to learn how to win the close games. It started with a 2-1 win against [Santa Fe Springs] St. Paul in the North Orange County tournament. Then came the first road game against South Torrance, when we scored three in the seventh to win, 5-4. Then we beat a good [Pico Rivera] El Rancho team, 7-5.
"It set a tone. The guys then believed they could win every game."
La Quinta won its first 16 games before losing to Diamond Bar in the Santa Ana Elks tournament. The Aztecs went on to win their next 14 before losing the section championship game Saturday to Ocean View.
"Once you establish a base for your program, and have kids come through to set the tone for those who follow, eventually you build--and build on--a winning tradition," Sonora Coach Pat Tellers said.
"Dave always gets the best out of his kids. They know what is expected of them. And with him being so strong in what he does, he just keeps things rolling along over there."
With winning comes the usual outside jabs. The Garden Grove is a soft league. Good players like shortstop Bobby Crosby, a Pacifica transfer, always seem to wind up at La Quinta (as in "recruiting").
"When you're coaching a team that's supposed to win, you always have critics," Demarest said. " 'It's the league, it's the schedule.' Our league is underrated and we play a good schedule. People will find something wrong if they want to. So you learn to block it out."