Coach Aims to Topple a Losing Tradition
It’s been nearly half a century since Laguna Beach High School has fielded a league championship on the diamond. Now in his fourth year as the Breaker’s skipper, Jeff Sears has dedicated himself to ending the drought once and for all. “We’re trying to change a culture here,” he said of the program’s losing tradition.
After Laguna won its first three games at the season opening Newport Elks tournament last Monday, it was beginning to look like this year’s team might break the streak. “I totally believe in these guys,” said Sears. But more importantly, he said, “They believe in themselves.”
The Breakers needed to win last Wednesday and this Friday to capture the tournament title.
Sears gives most of the credit for his team’s can-do attitude to his seniors, who have set the bar high and expect the rest to follow. “I don’t have to say ‘boo,’ ” he said of his team’s self-motivation.
For his first three seasons, Sears tried to develop a sense of family among his players, not only in the dugout but off the field as well. This year during ski week, while many locals packed their SUVs and headed to the mountains, Sears took his team to Hawaii.
Funded primarily by a silent auction held earlier this year at the Lumberyard restaurant, the trip was designed to expose his team to pre-season innings against top competition and to develop camaraderie. “It was a great bonding experience,” said Sears. “I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
“We’re more of a close unit now,” said senior shortstop Chris Paul. “I think it really helped us.”
Paul, Laguna’s captain and only player on each of Sear’s first four teams, has dedicated himself to “being that senior leader that I need to be,” he said.
If his teammates are able to follow his lead, they should win more than their share of games. Through the Breaker’s first three, Paul was batting .545 with six hits in 11 at bats, three doubles, one homer and nine RBI. He has signed to play next year for UC Santa Barbara.
And though Paul is one of the best Laguna has ever produced, the Breakers are greater than any one player. “It’s a team effort. It’s not just one guy,” said Sears, who has seen a level of desire this season not present before. “Once the kids started to care, that’s when they started winning,” he said.
The team has grown physically as well as mentally due to hours of off-season weight lifting, which has translated to improved play on the field. And patience is beginning to pay off for the visionary coach who is beginning to see light at the end of what has been a long and title-less tunnel. “I took this position because one: I want to be good. And two: I want to change something that was not good,” he said, convinced both goals are within reach.
Now he has players caring about the game, their legacy and each other. They even care about the place they call home: Skipper Carrillo Field. They spend hours carefully sweeping, raking and watering its green sod and red clay.
Sears has also taught his players the self-discipline to disregard who’s in the other dugout. “We’ve got to come out and play hard every day. We’ve got to play within ourselves and execute,” said Paul. Whether they do it with their gloves, arms, bats, or all three, “The only thing that matters is a win at the end of the day,” he said.
Now a little older, a little stronger and a lot more confident than the team that last season went 16-14 overall and tied for third in the Orange Coast league, this year’s squad is primed to capture a long over due league title. No matter who they take on along the way, Sears said, “I want these guys to know that they can play with the best.”