Contrary to the belief of his players, Denny Holt was never a Marine drill sergeant.
"It was a figment of someone's imagination," he said.
Not that Holt didn't like the title.
"We ran a tight ship," he said.
In 1971, Holt was the baseball coach at Monroe High. Relying on pitching, defense and discipline, the Vikings finished 19-0 and won the City Championship at Dodger Stadium. No team has finished unbeaten since.
"It wasn't a team of stars," said Bruce Rosenblum, who scored in Monroe's 1-0 victory over Fremont in the City final. "It proved the old adage that hard work pays off. We were a fundamentally sound team. There was a chemistry there."
Holt coached at Monroe from 1959-81. He had a crew cut and treated his players like they were in the military. Each player would stop by his office before school and pick up an afternoon practice schedule.
"We knew exactly what we were doing from the minute we came to practice to the minute it ended," Rosenblum said.
Holt believed in strength up the middle and built the Vikings around the outstanding double-play combination of shortstop Kim Andrew and second baseman Rick Reinhardt, plus center fielder Skip Willis and catcher Dennis Shaw.
There were strong teams and players throughout the City in 1971. Jim Umbarger was a top pitcher at Grant. Infielder Chet Lemon played for Fremont. Pitcher Pete Redfern was at Sylmar. All made it to the majors. And the best athlete of all, outfielder and future USC tailback Anthony Davis, was the star at San Fernando.
The Vikings went unchallenged until the last two games.
In an emotional, 15-inning, 4 1/2-hour semifinal, Monroe defeated San Pedro, 4-3, scoring two runs in the bottom of the 15th inning.
Holt called it "the high school baseball game of the century."
Monroe was one strike from elimination. There was a runner on first and two strikes on pinch-hitter Russ Bennett.
"The candle was real dim," Holt said. "There was no light, only a little glow."
Bennett blooped a single to center field. Willis walked on a 3-and-2 pitch to load the bases. Reinhardt walked to force in the tying run, and Andrew followed with a game-winning single on the first pitch.
"I was never involved in a game like that," Holt said. "It was like two fighters in the ring giving everything they had and we finally were able to score the winning punch."
At Dodger Stadium, Monroe scored on a third-inning single by Willis. Pitcher Bob Holt (no relation to the coach) allowed three hits. The Vikings barely survived a scare in the seventh.
Fremont loaded the bases with one out. A perfect season and a City Championship were in jeopardy. Holt induced a shallow fly ball for the second out, then struck out the next batter on a called strike, setting off a wild celebration.
John Flinn was Monroe's No. 3 pitcher behind Holt (8-0) and Tom Collier (9-0). He later pitched for the Baltimore Orioles. He said the memories of playing at Dodger Stadium and completing an unbeaten high school season rank with any of his big-league moments.
"I was 17 and getting to go to Dodger Stadium, a place where you watched the Dodgers play, and suddenly you're standing on the field--it's something you never forget," he said.
Added All-City right fielder Craig Cacek: "We all grew up watching [Sandy] Koufax and [Don] Drysdale and dreaming to play there and to be there, oh my God. I remember leaving the parking lot and being shocked."
Three of the players--Flinn, Andrew and Cacek--reached the major leagues. But talent alone didn't lead to the championship.
"[Holt] taught us more important than just winning was developing a good sense of communication, being organized and having a hard work ethic," Rosenblum said.
Shaw, one of nine siblings who attended Monroe, said Holt taught players to be prepared.
"I never had so much fun in my life," Shaw said. "There was no situation in a game we hadn't been through before dozens of times in practices."
Holt, 65, is retired and lives in Hawaii. Rosenblum lives in Calabasas and is an executive for Warner Bros. Three of his sons have played football for Calabasas High.
Shaw is a middle school principal in Merced. His sister, Kelly, is the mother of Notre Dame High football-soccer standout Jimmy Sharp.
Flinn works in construction in Charlotte, N.C. Willis played at Pepperdine. His son, Caleb, became a top receiver at Valencia and Azusa Pacific. Cacek lives in Santa Monica, is a counselor for learning disabled children and plays in an over-30 adult baseball league.