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Rick Hebert didn't find out he was coaching the Santa Maria baseball team until December.

Fast forward six months and Hebert found himself hoisting a CIF Southern Section championship plaque on Saturday afternoon. 

Hebert led the Saints to a CIF divisional title in his first season as the team's coach, capping the postseason run with Saturday's dominant win over Moreno Valley. 

After the 9-0 victory, Hebert guessed that not too many people would've wagered on him skippering the Saints' to the CIF title. 

But there he was, the captain for a club that flat out blew away its competition.

Hebert says he deserves none or, perhaps, very little of the credit.

"It's the boys, my goal was not to mess it up," he said. "This is a good group of kids that has been playing together for a long time. Honestly, my goal was not to mess it up. I didn't change a lot of stuff, we just tweaked things and mostly got them mentally prepared because they're still young men. And that was the biggest challenge throughout the year.

"But we stayed true to it, battled and at the end of the year we came together and they started to believe everything and became a true family."

Forget about a CIF championship, there was a point in the season where it appeared the Saints might not even make the playoffs. 

The Saints lost four straight games, starting in mid-April. Then came the May 2 game against Templeton, one of the better teams in the Los Padres League. The Saints won that game 1-0. They then beat the Eagles on May 5, 6-0.

The Saints lost just one game after that, reeling off six straight playoff wins after starting the Division 6 postseason as a wild card team.

"There was a moment of doubt when we had that four-game skid," Hebert said. "The guys weren't coming back from that. It was hard. They were down, like elastic. They stretched out and just stayed there.

"But then it turned into a fleeting moment, and it went away. We stayed true to ourselves and pressed on."

Hebert points to that Templeton series as the turning point.

"That's a very good team and we beat them two times and we really battled there and that series really turned us around," Hebert said. 

Hebert, a through-and-through Cajun from Louisiana, said the best part of the upcoming offseason is, actually, just having an offseason. Remember, after getting the head coaching job in December, he didn't have an offseason this year.

"I'm enjoying it, but the offseason has already started," Hebert said. "We didn't get this luxury last year. We didn't start until January. During the (Christmas) break, I got the job. So I didn't see the kids until we got back in January. So I had zero offseason to get things together.

"So now we'll have a true offseason, so coach (Joey) Orozco and I have already started planning."

But Hebert didn't get the job done on his own, relying on his staff to help point the team in the right direction.

Orozco, also in his first year at Santa Maria, quickly formed a bond with the club. Alex Lopez managed the pitching staff and worked with catcher Tommy Herrera to make sure the Saints' arms were at the top of their game. Marcus Lyghts and Omar Gonzalez both worked well as a bench coaches, keeping the team loose at times and fired up at others.

But Hebert focused on his own development as a coach as well.

"It was a little bit of learning as you go, that's exactly what it was," Hebert said of his first season in charge. "I'm an open person and I'm willing to take criticism to change and act accordingly to help this team win.

"I have zero ego. It's all about these boys and I think I've grown a tremendous amount as a coach."

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Sports Editor

Alumni Fresno State