Mike Garza said he couldn’t sleep Tuesday night heading into Highland’s Central Section Division 3 semifinals on Wednesday.
But that was more of a positive indication of things to come than being worrisome for the second-year head coach.
“I told the boys (before the game) that I have a gut feeling, and I said, ‘You know me, I have a pretty big gut,’” Garza said with a chuckle. “So when I get that gut feeling, it’s pretty big.”
That lightheadedness came after No. 3 Highland beat No. 10 Nipomo 6-1 as the Scots advance to the D3 finals for the second time in three seasons after no title game appearances in the first 47 years of the program.
“We don’t get a lot of credit, but we are here to show them what we are made of,” Highland starting pitcher Matthew Miranda said. “We are just an eastside D3 team that no one really knew about a few years ago. Now we are coming and making a name for ourselves.”
Highland will play No. 12 Atascadero on Saturday at Fresno State. Time is still to be determined.
Miranda went five strong innings, striking out five batters and allowing just two hits, including a solo home run by Carter Stevens in the fifth inning. Miranda left the game with 69 pitches, meaning he is available to pitch in the finals on Saturday.
“I knew Matt was going to come out and dominate,” Highland junior Isiah Fajardo said. “Then coach asked me if I wanted the last two innings and I wanted it.”
Fajardo didn’t allow a run in the final two innings after pitching a complete game in the quarterfinals win over Firebaugh on Saturday.
There are seven players that were on the 2017 championship team. Add in Fajardo and his brother, Andrew--the senior starting catcher--who were both on the D3 championship team last season for Garces. That adds up to Garza being able to field an entire team of players that have won a section title. To the head coach who was an assistant for Rick Sawyer two years ago, it matters.
“It’s tremendous help,” Garza said. “I tell the boys to try and get them pumped up that there are kids that play all four years of varsity ball and never get a chance at this shot. There are coaches that coach 20 years that never get a shot at Valley. Now for (those nine) it’s two chances … It’s like a win-win feeling.”
Highland scored twice in the first inning to give Miranda quick run support as Isiah Fajardo and Nick Salas crossed the plate.
Then the Scots (28-2) scored two more in the third and fourth against Nipomo junior Ricardo Rodriguez, who was 10-2 with a 1.15 ERA in 79 innings coming into the semifinals.
“He is our guy. I am going to ride with him until I can’t,” Nipomo coach Samm Spears said.
With just two losses this season, both against Liberty in tournament play, the Scots are riding high seeking a second section title in three seasons for a program that was once title starved and now flourishing.
“I take tremendous pride in this,” Garza said. “This is something any coach would want.”