Brian Barnes just wanted his players to get better every day -- and they did.
Just two years removed from a 1-9 season, Rancho Santa Margarita Tesoro reached the Southern Section Pac-5 Division championship and held a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead in that game over top-seeded Long Beach Poly.
Poly rallied for a 20-17 victory, but the Titans' setback couldn't diminish how far they had come under Barnes, The Times' coach of the year.
Barnes, 29, took over at Tesoro two years ago with modest goals. No. 1 was improving every day, No. 2 was beating rival Capistrano Valley, No. 3 was winning a South Coast League title and No. 4 was winning a section title.
"Honestly, I thought we had a chance to achieve our first goal and maybe our second," Barnes said.
The Titans achieved their first three goals in 2007, prompting Barnes to change "rival" to "rivals" before this season with the addition of league power Mission Viejo. Barnes also added a fifth objective: winning a state title.
Tesoro went undefeated in league play and won its first three playoff games, including a 23-7 victory over a Los Alamitos team coached by Barnes' father, John.
-- Ben Bolch