The weekend plans are official for Santa Ynez High softball: The Pirates are heading down to Irvine on Saturday to chase the program’s first ever CIF title.
With former softball coaches and players present in the stands and standing along the outfield fence, the Pirates solidified their spot in the CIF Southern Section Division 7 championship, dispatching Menifee Santa Rosa Academy 17-2 at home on Tuesday.
The win sets up the D7 championship game for the Pirates as they’ll go against Sun Valley Village Christian — a 2-0 winner over Santa Ana Century on Tuesday and a school that last won a CIF-SS title at the D5 level during the 2002-03 season. The Saturday's championship contest will be played at Bill Barber Memorial Park, located behind the Irvine Business Complex with the time to be announced.
Afterwards, both head coach Denicia Gills and Benny Garcia were showered with an ice bucket bath from the players. Gills became the most soaked, but basked in the brisk water — and signature moment.
“That was the best water bath I’ve had — by far,” the former Pirates softball player said with a smile.
She and the Pirates were once winless for two seasons. But now, at a school that was founded in 1896, Santa Ynez has produced its greatest softball team and is one victory away from hanging a CIF title banner inside the gym. The journey of this once downtrodden program has started to hit Gills’ head.
“It has officially sunk in,” Gills said. “I feel like I’ve been a little bit numb to the situation. But now the emotion has hit me to recognize what the girls are doing. It’s just huge.”
The Pirates ran up the score quickly in the bottom of the first inning, taking a 5-0 lead off of RBI’s from Nicole Atiles, Anastazia Garcia, McKenzie Ramirez and Maggie Usher.
Usher, who crushed two home runs in the quarterfinal victory over Anaheim Connelly, added two more home run blasts to help inflate the lead to 8-0. Her solo smash that sailed over the left field fence came in the bottom of the fourth.
Armani Garcia struck out three batters in five innings before being relieved by Yesenia Vega, who struck out the last Rangers batters while the bases were loaded for the third out to close the fifth.
Garcia, who is one of five freshmen carrying the future of Pirates softball, gets to not only experience her first CIF title game, but can share this moment with her older sister Anastazia — the only senior on the SYHS softball roster.
“It’s exciting because it’s her last year and my first year to play with her,” Armani Garcia said.
Like Gills, emotions were equally running high for Anastazia Garcia — who not only pounded a line drive solo home run in the bottom of the sixth, but got support from her friends, family and had visitors from her hometown of Lompoc cheering her on.
“It doesn’t feel real at all. It’s crazy how so many people were here. Even people from out of town and in my hometown of Lompoc were here. It feels great to have your community behind you,” Anastazia Garcia said.
And what would it mean for the former Cabrillo Conquistador and the Pirates to win their first ever CIF softball crown? Especially at a place that has never experienced any kind of CIF winning moment on the softball diamond?
“It’s a hard question because we haven’t been this far. It would mean a lot to the whole school, though, because the softball team has improved a lot from the previous years,” Anastazia Garcia said.