The Gladstone High School baseball program is not steeped in winning tradition.
For that matter, neither are the other teams at the 1,150-student school in Azusa.
The last time the Gladiators won a championship in any sport was in 1973 when they defeated Sonora for the CIF Southern Section 2-A baseball title. That was the senior year for Gladstone's Jack Clark, now star first baseman of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Last season the Gladiators struggled to an 8-15 record and missed the playoffs, and this year they would have gladly settled for a post-season berth.
Upset League Rival
But the Gladiators made it to the 1-A championship game last week and defeated Montview League rival Baldwin Park, 7-6, for the title.
Second-year Coach Rich Remkus could not have envisioned a championship at the start of the season.
"I felt that we were going to be a much more experienced ballclub and more intelligent," said Remkus, who coached Mission College in San Fernando for three years before coming to Gladstone.
"I coach these players like I do a college team, and I know it usually takes two years for them to understand my system. I thought this was an improved team, but I wasn't thinking about a CIF championship."
Gladstone finished 7-5 in league and earned the Montview's final playoff spot.
Tough Path to Throne
The Gladiators beat three league champions and one second-place team en route to the title game: Santa Fe League champion St. Genevieve, 13-0; Sunkist winner Yucaipa, 7-1; Alpha champion Montclair Prep, 4-2, and St. Anthony, 6-2.
That set up the rematch with Baldwin Park. The Braves had defeated Gladstone, 6-4 and 2-1, during the season.
But the Gladiators were surprisingly confident.
"I think our kids felt they had a chance," Remkus said. "The two previous times we didn't rally. We felt if we played them again it would be different."
Remkus also knew his team would face pitcher Paul Potvin, who had beaten Gladstone twice, and figured it was time for the law of averages to catch up with him.
Third Time a Charm?
"I figured we didn't have anything to lose," Remkus recalled. "Nobody expected us to be there. The monkey was really on their back."
The monkey must have been King Kong. Tied 5-5 in the eighth, Gladstone scored when Baldwin Park botched a rundown. The Gladiators scored their final run on a wild pitch and held on for the victory.
Remkus said hitting was the biggest factor in the title drive.
The Gladiators had a batting average of .356, led by second baseman Fernando Garcia (.429) and outfielders Oscar Marlen (.427), Jorge Velazquez (.400) and Ramon Carlos (.396). Carlos posted a 9-2 pitching record and Velazquez was 6-1.