In shock to Laguna sports community, beloved baseball coach Jeff Sears dies at 55

Then Laguna Beach High School baseball coach Jeff Sears pleads his case after a controversial play during the Breakers CIF win over Indio in 2011. Photo by Bob Campbell.

The most successful baseball coach in the sport’s 84-year history at Laguna Beach High School died at Providence Mission Hospital on Sunday. Jeff Sears was 55 years old.

Sears had a number of lingering health issues over the years but the shock has hit the high school sports community hard. Sears was a beloved member of the staff and helped all sports including running the scoreboard at Football.

“His family was his baseball kids and students and he taught them how to play the sport right and act right. He was a stickler for it and had a smile for everybody,” said Lance Stewart, Sears’ upstairs neighbor and friend of 16 years.

Sears mentioned he was being treated for COVID-19 and Pneumonia in the ICU, Stewart said. He had arrived at the hospital on Jan. 11.

A makeshift memorial from Sunday at Skipper Carrillo Field. Photo courtesy of Laguna baseball

The Laguna baseball program was started in 1938 (no team in 1944) and had very limited success with titles in 1954, 1957, and 1963. After nearly 50 years and over a dozen coaches, Sears was just another hire in 2008 hoping to change the non-competitive culture in local baseball. His squads finished 14-15, 14-14, and 16-14 in his first three seasons – a successful turnaround for Laguna.

The team’s breakout year was 2011, sweeping the Orange Coast League (15-0) for Laguna’s first league title in 48 years. In the playoffs, the team advanced to the Division 4 quarterfinals before losing at 6-3 at Oaks Christian. Jeff left to take over the Servite program and teach at the all-boys Catholic high school in Anaheim. His assistant, Thurston Middle School teacher Mike Bair took over the program winning four additional league titles over five seasons culminating in the 2016 Division 4 CIF Title.

Following that victory, Bair resigned so he could help coach his three sons in youth baseball. Not missing a beat, Sears returned to continue the momentum from his initial hire. Under Sears, Laguna won the Orange Coast League in 2017 and 2018 then made the transition to the Sunset Wave League in 2019 going 15-13. In 2020, the team was 8-1, ranked No. 1 in Division 3 when the pandemic shut down the high school sports programs in California ending what should have been the school’s highest-rated team in 80 years of play. This spring would have been Sears’ 10th season with the Breakers.

Sears was 143-95 (.601) in nine seasons as head coach. In league play, he won three titles going 69-30 (.697) all – best in Laguna history. Overall his teams went 5-5 in the CIF playoffs, won four in-season tournaments taking the Newport Elks title in 2011, 2019, and 2020. His squad also won the Ryan Lemmon tournament in 2019.

Bouquets of flowers and a baseball were placed on the pitcher’s mound at Skipper Carrillo Field after news of Sears’ death on Sunday.

Daniel Langhorne contributed reporting to this story.

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