The Santa Maria Saints got off to a blazing start and never looked back in Wednesday afternoon’s 12-0 victory over the Pioneer Valley Panthers in a girls water polo match at Santa Maria High’s Karl Bell Aquatic Center.

Santa Maria's Vanessa Garcia Sanchez won the opening sprint to the ball, rifled a pass to Carina Nevarez, who lofted a floater past Pioneer Valley goal keeper Cassandra Victor from two meters out and the Saints were off to the races.

Nevarez’s goal came just 21 seconds into the game.

“We have a pretty fast sprinter and when their defense collapsed on her that left a gap for Vanessa to get a pass to Carina who took a quick shot that went over the Pioneer Valley keeper’s head,” said Santa Maria head coach Josh Troeger. “Typically, we’ve struggled in the first quarter but today we were solid right from the start.”

The early goal got the fans into the game.

The three poolside bleachers for this non-league match were packed.

The highly-partisan crowd roared every time the Saints had a scoring opportunity.

Nevarez’s goal got the crowd going early. The fans kept their energy up throughout the game.

“I am really impressed with the crowd and it’s been like that for every single game,” said Troeger. “We’ve got great, great support and that helps the girls get better. They play better when they know people are watching. They don’t want to let everyone down.”

Near the end of the first quarter, the Saints went on a scoring spree with three goals in 90 seconds when Vanessa Garcia Sanchez scored on a breakaway at 2:45, Danika DeLauer scored on a point-blank shot off Vanessa Garcia Martinez’s pass at 2:01 and Clarissa Reyes converted another Garcia Martinez pass into a shot into the lower left corner of the net.

Meanwhile, the Saints’ defense was stifling.

Santa Maria goal keeper Berenice Baez faced only one shot in the first quarter; another was blocked in the field while the Saints had two steals and forced four shot clock violations on the Panthers.

“It was good to see Berenice get her first career shutout,” said Troeger.

Baez blocked 10 shots in the game, while her teammates helped out by blocking another four shots in the field of play.

Some of Baez’s saves were spectacular.

She stopped an Alyssa Cuevas point-blank shot early in the second quarter, Brandalin Hernandez’s shot from out front 30 seconds later and Charlotte Ionata’s shot from two meters midway through the fourth quarter.

Baez knocked down Ionata’s shot right at the goal mouth, the ball floated at the goal line but never crossed it before Baez was able to push it back into the pool.

The Saints kept up the pressure in the second quarter.

DeLauer scored the first two goals of the quarter — the first from in close at the 5:39 mark and the second at 3:18 after Madilyn Arguijo won a battle in front of the net, pushed the ball to DeLauer who tossed it over Victor’s head for a 6-0 Saints’ lead.

Arguijo scored the next two — her first at 2:26 on a penalty shot and then, at 1:48, from directly in front of the next.

As time wound down, Santa Maria’s Paloma Ronquillo raced to intercept a Pioneer Valley pass, relayed the ball to Nevarez who tossed it home from the two-meter mark and a 9-0 lead 32-seconds before the half.

“I’m very proud of how the girls played,” said Pioneer Valley head coach Ryan Hill. “But we lost a lot of players to graduation and have a lot of holes to fill. We have just two seniors — Candice Morales and Cassandra Victor — and three players who moved up this year from junior varsity, one more who is back with us after taking two years off and three who are novice players.”

The Saints slowed things down in the second half, taking as much time off the clock as they could.

When Garcia Martinez slipped past a Pioneer Valley defender, Daisee Ortega found her with a perfect pass and Garcia Martinez sent the ball into the net midway through the third.

“Vanessa (Garcia Martinez) is our setter but she made an excellent turn to the inside, got the pass and got the goal,” said Troeger. “It was good to see her get that goal, good to see the whole team do the things that we’ve been practicing.”

Garcia Martinez scored again off a Nevarez pass with one minute left in the quarter for an 11-0 lead.

The Saints were content to play defense and kill the clock on offense in the fourth quarter.

When Reyes was fouled with 6:43 left in the game, she threw home the penalty shot to finish the scoring.

Victor had five saves for the Panthers.

“It was Cassandra’s first game in goal for us and I think she did a good job,” said Hill. “Helen Guillen, Alyssa Cuevas and Charlotte Ionata also did a great job. This is a great bunch of girls. Their work ethic is fantastic. We see valuable improvement every day.”

“This is a pretty big win,” said Troeger. “Our team is a lot stronger than it was last year, stronger than it was earlier this year but we still have a long way to go.”

Pioneer Valley (0-6) plays at Morro Bay on Thursday.

Santa Maria (2-4) next plays its own alumni on Friday, Dec. 22, before returning to non-league action at Pioneer Valley on Friday, Dec. 29.

Girls wrestling

Santa Maria wins twice

Santa Maria went 2-0 in a three-way dual meet at Nipomo High School, defeating Pioneer Valley 48-30 and Nipomo 57-24.

Details were not available at press time.

Girls basketball

San Luis Obispo 45, Nipomo 37

The Titans fell at the Tigers' Holiday Tournament.

Clarissa Simonson led Nipomo with with 10 points and eight rebounds.

Her sister Shantille Simonson added nine points and six rebounds as the Titans dropped their season opener.

They continue play Thursday night at the tournament, taking on Atascadero at 6:30 p.m.

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Senior Sports Reporter