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Pitching Carries La Quinta to Top Seeding in Playoffs


La Quinta Coach Dave Demarest is as surprised as anyone by his Aztecs, who returned no starters yet set a school record by winning their first 21 games, wrapped up their eighth consecutive Garden Grove League title and head into the Southern Section Division IV playoffs as the top-seeded team.

He's just not surprised how they did it: First-rate pitching.

Starters Ian Kennedy, Jim Garvey and Mike McKernan, along with closer Tom Zieglowsky, have made all the difference.

"Any successful team, you have to start on the mound," Demarest said. "We've always been known for pitching and it's held true this year, even though nobody who's on the mound was there last year. Everyone has played to their capability, and maybe a notch above."

It starts with Kennedy, a freshman who surpassed expectations. He established himself with a victory over Downey Warren in the finals of the North Orange County tournament and later became the only pitcher in Orange County this season to throw a perfect game (five innings). He's 8-0 heading into the playoffs.

"I think he's impressed a lot of people with his maturity and composure," Demarest said. "He's a perfectionist, and his hardest critic is himself. He's got to accept that he's not always going to be successful."

Then there's Garvey, a senior who started a recent game against Pacifica despite experiencing pain from a severe case of food poisoning that later sent him to the hospital. According to Demarest, Garvey is an example of a kid who started with little direction and "made a [complete] turnaround . . . on the field." Garvey is 9-1.

The third starter, McKernan, is a sophomore left-hander who started the season with victories over regional powers Riverside Poly and Temecula Valley. McKernan (6-0) is a master of mixing his pitches, so that when he follows a curve with a fastball, "it looks like it's coming 90 mph," Kennedy said.

Finally, there's Zieglowsky, a senior closer with the attitude to match. A transfer from Rancho Alamitos, Zieglowsky is 2-1 with seven saves. He has also made an impact in the dugout, where he takes a vocal role.

"Tom brings a lot of leadership," Kennedy said. "He usually gets us going when we're down. Nothing gets to him."

Pitching coach Jim Doyle has helped mold a staff that had zero varsity starts for the Aztecs heading into this season.

The four pitchers have combined for 212 strikeouts and only 48 walks.

"My expectations were to win league," Kennedy said, "but I thought we'd have more losses and maybe get to the [Southern Section] semifinals. Now, my expectations are to be CIF champions."

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