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WALNUT — Marches to CIF Southern Section divisional championship games aren't typically this easy. 

These Saints aren't a typical team.

Santa Maria dominated another playoff game on Tuesday, this one on the road, as the Saints beat Walnut Southlands Christian 10-1, advancing to the CIF Southern Section Division 6 championship game.

The Saints will play Moreno Valley, which beat Malibu 6-4 on Tuesday, for the Division 6 championship either on Friday or Saturday at UC Riverside.

According to the CIF record book, this is the first time Santa Maria has advanced to a CIF championship game in baseball since 1957.

But this year's group has formulated a winning mix of aggression, poise and confidence the rest of the division hasn't been able to match. The Saints started the playoffs with a 14-1 win over New Roads on May 17. On May 19, the Saints won at Dunn 13-4 in the first round. Their closest game came against Ventura's Foothill Tech, with the Saints winning 4-2 on May 23. 

In last Friday's quarterfinal game, the Saints clubbed Big Bear 16-4, advancing to Tuesday's semifinal, where they again scored at least 10 runs.

Santa Maria paired another gem from starting pitcher Paul Navarro with a relentless offensive attack led by Isiah Garcia. The Saints have also played consistent defense.

Navarro had seven strikeouts in four innings of work as Slim Lopez came on in relief to close out the game with perfect fifth and seventh innings.

Santa Maria's leadoff man Garcia went 3-for-3 with a pair of run scored. Navarro helped his own cause by driving home Garcia twice. 

"It feels good as the leadoff batter to do what I can for my team and let them follow me," Garcia said. "I try to be the spark plug of the team. I try to do what I can do to help out my team the most. I came through today with three hits — probably my biggest game. But I have to give it up to Pauly and his pitching. We wouldn't have stayed in this game without his pitching." 

Santa Maria coach Rick Hebert was also pleased with Navarro's pitching performance on Tuesday: "Pauly is a beast," the first-year coach said.

That's all Hebert needed to say to sum up Navarro's outing, helping the Saints win their fifth playoff game after starting the postseason as a wild card team. The Saints ended the Eagles' seven-game win streak Tuesday and helped close out their season with a 20-8 record. Santa Maria improved to 20-11-1.

After the game was scoreless through two innings, Garcia led off the third with a single and moved to second on the hit after an error on the right fielder. Navarro brought Garcia home for the game's first run with a bloop single. Angel Esparza then smashed a double to center field, plating Navarro and giving the Saints a 2-0 lead.

Tommy Herrera drew a walk, bringing Lopez to the plate. Lopez ripped a single to right to give the Saints a 3-0 edge and bring Trevor Garcia to the plate. Garcia drove a ball to left field for a two-run double, putting the Saints up 5-0.

They never looked back. Bobby Ruiz's single up the middle made it 6-0 in the third inning. Navarro then doubled home Isiah Garcia in the fourth inning. Lopez came through with another big hit to put the Saints up 9-0 after four with a double. Ruiz led off the fifth with a single, moved to second on a balk and came around to score on a hit by Isiah Garcia to score the final run for Santa Maria and put the Saints ahead 10-0.

Southlands Christian's Cole Miller led off the sixth with a double and came around to score for the Eagles' lone run.


Sports Editor

Alumni Fresno State