This is the most exciting time in the Santa Maria baseball community since the Saints won a CIF Southern Section divisional championship in 1957.
Having outscored their five 2017 post-season opponents by a combined 57-12, the Saints will play Moreno Valley at 12 p.m. Saturday at UC Riverside for the CIF-SS Division 6 championship.
Maxpreps.com ranks Santa Maria 317th in the state. Moreno Valley is rated 698th.
After having sagged to a 9-8 record in the Los Padres League with four straight losses, the Saints won three of their last four league games. They have been on a roll since.
Santa Maria will enter the game with an overall record of 19-11-1. The Vikings are 16-13, but they won the Mountain Valley League championship with a record of 11-4. The Saints finished tied for third in the Los Padres League at 12-9.
The Vikings have been on a roll themselves After a 1-9 start, they have won 15 of their last 19.
As was the case with Santa Maria's previous playoff opponents, first-year Santa Maria coach Rick Hebert doesn't know much about Moreno Valley. He prefers it that way.
He said before his team's semifinal that he really didn't want to know much about his squad's playoff opponents. "That way, I don't go in with any pre-conceived notions," he said then.
"Baseball people are pretty superstitious," Hebert said by phone Thursday. "We stick to the script."
Hebert said Trevor Garcia will get the start against Moreno Valley. "It's his turn in the rotation," Hebert said.
Paul Navarro was the starting pitcher in Santa Maria's 10-1 win at Walnut Southlands Christian in the semifinals Tuesday. Navarro pitched the first four innings. Slim Lopez worked the last three.
Moreno Valley beat Malibu 6-4 in the other Division 6 semi.
A CIF Southern Section Office rule allows pitchers a maximum of 10 innings of work a week. Garcia has all 10 of his innings left.
Should he be called upon to relieve Garcia, Marcos Rodriguez also has 10 innings available. Lopez has seven innings left. Navarro has six.
The Saints are hitting .317 as a team, and five Santa Maria regulars are batting above .320. Navarro is batting .364, catcher Tommy Herrera is at .348, lead-off man and center fielder Isiah Garcia is batting .333, third baseman Marc Estrada is at .330, and Trevor Garcia is batting .324.
J.J. Pantoja has worked his way into the starting lineup recently. The left fielder is batting .364 in 15 games.
Four Vikings in Moreno Valley's probable Saturday staring lineup are hitting over .300, including freshman first baseman Gustavo DeJesus (.416), junior right fielder Anthony Ruff (.350), freshman pitcher-third baseman David DeJesus (.309) and senior center fielder Alfredo Samarripa (.301).
Senior shortstop-outfielder Bryant Marentes is hitting .444. He has appeared in 20 games.
The probable starting lineup for the Vikings Saturday includes Anthony Ruff in right field; Gustavo DeJesus at third base or pitcher; David DeJesus at third base or pitcher; Samarripa in center field; Mark Cerrato at catcher; Noah Flores at shortstop; Rashad Ruff at second base; Pedro Chayeb at pitcher or designated hitter; Eric Carmona in left field; and Robert Ybarra at third base.
Samarippa and Chayeb are the only seniors. Chayeb was the starting pitcher in his team's semifinal win.
Santa Maria has four seniors among its regulars; Navarro, Pantoja, Rodriguez and right fielder Angel Esparza. Robert Ruiz has split time at third base with Estrada lately. Both players are juniors.
Hebert said the Santa Maria coaching staff has been pleased with how the team has responded in the post-season.
"It's always nice when things come together, and things have come together at the right time," said Hebert.
"There has been a lot of attention put on the players, and the boys have responded very well."