The destination sign on the front of Westlake High's chartered bus bore an appropriate message Tuesday.
"Baseball Special," it read.
Baseball has indeed become special for the Warriors, whose 12-0 defeat of Serrano in a Southern Section Division III semifinal at Maverick Stadium moved them into the title game at 1 p.m. Saturday against South Hills at Dodger Stadium.
"We're going to the big house," a player yelled during the postgame celebration in the Westlake dugout.
Despite the game's lopsided score, the outcome remained in doubt until the seventh inning, when Westlake (19-10) scored nine runs, seven with two out.
"I wish we could have made a better showing than we did but the game was much closer than the score indicated," said Serrano Coach Rod Stillwell, a 1985 Thousand Oaks High graduate. "They were the better team, though. There was no doubt."
At the top of the Warrior honor roll was starter Mike Alba (5-0), who had his best performance of the season. With his breaking ball especially effective, Alba pitched a two-hitter, striking out four, walking one and inducing 13 groundouts.
"It's been the same stuff every time I've pitched, but today I was just a little bit sharper," said Alba, who emerged as the team's No. 2 pitcher in the second half of the season.
Westlake Coach Chuck Berrington said he gave Alba, who retired the last 11 batters and 17 of the final 18, repeated opportunities because the junior right-hander displayed talent.
"Mike's come a long way," Berrington said. "He struggled early with his mental approach, but we knew he had the ability. He just needed to gain confidence."
Stillwell said Alba's curveball was the best his team faced this season.
"When you can throw that pitch for strikes anytime and mix it in like that, it makes a big difference to the hitters," Stillwell said.
Serrano's only threats came early. The Diamondbacks (15-13) left runners at first and second in the first and followed a leadoff double in the second with three consecutive outs.
Westlake took a 1-0 lead in the first when leadoff hitter Joey Cuppari walked, stole second, took third on a Kevin Howard sacrifice fly and scored on a double by Ryan Cope.
The Warriors added a run in the fourth when Howard hit his second home run and increased their lead to 3-0 in the fifth when Cuppari singled in Garett Michaels from second.
Cuppari grounded out to start the seventh before Westlake broke open the game. Brian Bladen had a double, his fourth home run and two runs batted in during the inning, in which the Warriors sent 13 batters to the plate.
Bladen, Howard, Cope and Scott Dragicevich each had two of Westlake's 12 hits and Michael Nickeas hit his second home run.
Serrano starter James Fogo (6-5) allowed three hits and three runs, all earned, in 4 2/3 innings. The Diamondbacks' No. 1 pitcher, Nathan Esquer, who earned Serrano's quarterfinal victory, finished the game.