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The school year for Santa Ynez High School officially ends on Friday with its graduation ceremony for the 2017 class, which includes softball player Anastazia Garcia walking across that stage.

But the Pirates softball team and Garcia’s season will continue four days after the festivities, after the Pirates’ 18-1 demolition of Anaheim Cornelia Connelly at home on Thursday, punching Santa Ynez’s ticket to the CIF Southern Section Division 7 semifinals – a first for the softball program.

The Pirates bounced back quick from two errors and a 1-0 deficit in the bottom of the first, as Garcia – while facing two outs – sent her pop fly floating toward center field, which bounced off of the center fielder’s glove and scored one run. From there, Maggie Usher crushed two home runs and Yesenia Vega helped provide some big hits for the last remaining softball team in Northern Santa Barbara County.

It was also the first time Santa Ynez High hosted a CIF softball playoff game since 1981. And the part that made head coach Denicia Gills smile and feeling more energized was seeing some of the members from that team sitting in the home bleachers.

“We’re very proud to be here. It’s a full-circle moment because we got a chance to see some of the players from that ‘81 team that did well. They were here to support the Pirates and that’s a pretty big deal,” said Gills, who not too long ago endured back-to-back winless seasons in her first two years at her alma mater.

After Garcia helped bring in the Pirates' first run in the bottom of the first inning, McKenzie Ramirez and Alycia Lowery ended the inning with their RBIs off of singles. Usher hit her first of two home runs in the bottom of the second, as she sent the ball flying over the left field fence, bringing two of her teammates home in the process. She then returned in the bottom of the fourth with her second blast over right field for a solo shot, extending the lead to 8-1.

Usher, who is only a sophomore, said she went with a more relaxed approach the moment she picked up the bat for this playoff contest versus the Koalas.

“It was a lot going through my head because in the last game, I wasn’t hitting so great,” Usher said. “But this time, I needed to look at the bigger picture and just take a deep breath, not think about it and just go crush the ball.”

She wasn’t the only Pirate who recorded a home run. So did Ramirez, who sent the ball over center field for her two-run homer, further sticking the dagger in for SYHS as the lead ballooned to 14-1.

Morgan Blunt added an RBI double in the bottom of the sixth. Then Garcia helped get the last run for the Pirates with her base hit RBI. Garcia’s freshman sister Armani went on to pitch the complete game, striking out five Koala batters.

While the SYHS softball players have never experienced a deep playoff run before, Anastazia Garcia has.

 “It’s a great feeling because I haven’t been to CIF since my freshman year when I was at Cabrillo,” she said. “For our team to come this far and keep going, it’s great. We can’t do it without our support from the community, though.”

She was also surprised to hear that members of the Pirates’ last home playoff team from ’81 were in attendance.

“It’s really cool to see them come back and watch us play. It’s a great feeling knowing you have that support,” said Garcia, whose father Benny Garcia is one of the coaches on the SYHS staff.

The victory now pairs the Pirates up with Santa Rosa Academy, a 2-1 winner of Simi Valley Grace Brethren on Thursday. The semifinals contest is set up for 3:15 p.m. on Tuesday at SYHS. 

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Sports Reporter