After Diamond Bar High School won the Southern Section 2-A Division baseball title last year, it did not take long to learn what life as a defending champion is like.
"We were playing in a summer league game last year and we lost to this team and they acted as if they had just won the World Series," Coach Denis Paul recalled. "That was something we had never seen before. We didn't expect that kind of reaction."
Considering Diamond Bar's success, it is not an unusual reaction.
In the four years Diamond Bar has had a varsity baseball program, it has won four playoff berths and back-to-back Hacienda League titles--plus that championship banner.
So it is no surprise that the Brahmas are favored to make it two in a row this year. Diamond Bar, seeded No. 1 in 2-A with a 19-4 record, opens its bid for another title with a first-round home game against Calexico at 3:15 p.m. Friday.
Team Was Confident
Despite having only two starters from the championship team, Paul said an optimistic mood permeated the club at the start of the season.
"After the summer we kind of felt it wasn't a rebuilding year," he said. "It was more like a reloading year."
You do not need to do much rebuilding when your freshman-sophomore and junior varsity teams wons league titles the year before.
"We needed to establish our starting pitching, and that was the one area that concerned us," Paul said.
As it turned out, that has not been a problem. Diamond Bar has received strong starting pitching from sophomore Jim Edmonds, who has a 4-1 record, three saves and a 2.31 earned-run average, and junior Bryan Marino (5-0, 4.06).
Brahmas Are Hitters
While the two have not had picture-perfect control, they haven't needed it--not with a team batting .370 and scoring an average of 9.2 runs a game. The Brahmas, who have outscored opponents by a 212-109 margin, have eight starters batting above .300.
"It's a different team than last year," Paul said. "It's potentially a more explosive team because from one to nine (in the batting order), they're all good hitters. We just don't have the pitching and defense that we had last year.
"You could say we're winning ugly."
Ugly, maybe. But they are winning.
The coach said his team has been in top form since posting a 3-1 mark in the Thousand Oaks Easter Tournament in March. The Brahmas finished third.
"That's when I think we came together into a cohesive unit. The players lived together for a couple of days and got to know each other well."
Washington, Vladic Star
Paul gives much of the credit to seniors Kraig Washington and Larry Vladic, both starters last year.
"They're both highly competitive," Paul said. "Between the two of them they've been in five CIF championship games (three in football and two in baseball). Last year it was more of a supportive role; this year it's more of a leadership role."
Washington, a shortstop and pitcher who has signed a letter of intent to attend USC next year, is batting .429 with three home runs and a team-high 30 runs batted in. Washington also has a 3-2 record and 0.33 earned-run average in 22 innings pitched.
Vladic, a center fielder who will play football at Oregon State in the fall, is batting .475 with two home runs and 29 RBIs.
Two other leaders in the hit parade are junior second baseman Craig Turley, who has a .479 average, and sophomore right fielder Brian Hendrick, .404. If the name Hendrick sounds familiar, it's because his father, George, is the right fielder for the California Angels.
Next Season Bright
With Turley, Hendrick, Edmonds and Marino returning next year, Paul thinks the Brahmas should be strong, even though Diamond Bar will move up to the 4-A Sierra League.
The coach is looking forward to the challenge but quickly adds, "I hope I don't have to think about it for another five games."
By that time Paul also hopes to be worrying about where to hang another championship banner.
Diamond Bar is one of five San Gabriel Valley teams seeded in the Southern Section playoffs. Alhambra is seeded No. 4 in 3-A, Mountain View is No. 2 in 2-A, and Baldwin Park is No. 2 and Charter Oak No. 4 in 1-A.
In first-round games at 3:15 p.m. Friday, Alhambra is host to Righetti, Mountain View is at home against Estancia, Charter Oak visits Beaumont and Baldwin Park plays host to Maranatha.
Unseeded Muir, which finished third in the Pacific League, has the most unenviable task of any valley team in the first round. The Mustangs must visit Simi Valley, ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today, in 4-A.