GROSS PARK — Just days after securing its second straight Santa Cruz League championship, the Bellarmine-Jefferson Highsoftball squad completed the only other feat that remained before the postseason — finishing league play undefeated.
With a resounding 16-1 mercy-rule victory over St. Anthony at Gross Park Thursday afternoon, the Guards put a stamp on an already dominant season in which they scored in double figures against each of their Santa Cruz opponents, going 8-0 and 18-5 overall, including winning 13 of their final 14 regular-season games.
Peaking at just the right time has Bell-Jeff Coach John Castaneda fairly optimistic about his team's chances to make a deep run in the playoffs.
"Our schedule has prepared us for what's to come," said Castaneda, who deliberately scheduled tough nonleague opponents in preparation for the playoffs. "We're confident with not being surprised by anyone, but we still have to play the game."
The Guards wasted no time in putting the season finale away, as they scored 10 runs in the first inning, highlighted by four runs batted in from Cristina Colon, who finished the day with three hits. The Guards sent 15 batters to the plate in the frame before Sofia Palacios popped out with runners on first and second.
Bell-Jeff starting pitcher Amanda Maalouf complemented the offense well, giving up just two hits before being pulled for Jackie Pons, who gave up St. Anthony's lone run of the game with one out in the third inning.
Unfortunately for the Saints (6-9, 3-5), the home-run ball cut the Guards' lead to just 13-1. Bell-Jeff added three runs in its half of the third inning, and then put up another three spot in the fourth on two walks and a wild pitch with the bases loaded, extending the lead to 16-1 and bringing the mercy rule into play.
St. Anthony Coach Marciea Ball pulled her starter after the seemingly endless first inning. While the Guards were prevented from another onslaught on offense, Maalouf and Pons kept the St. Anthony bats at bay, combining to hold the Saints to four hits with just one walk.
"We're a strong team with good defense and strong bats," Colon said. "With everyone in place, we expect to do good things in the playoffs."
"This is our second year, so we're pretty confident to go far, and we all want to," added teammate Maddy Gianoli, who had three hits of her own.
The Guards sprayed 14 hits against the Saints, who they shut out earlier in the season, 19-0.
Samantha Casarez and Monique Landini each had a pair of hits and three RBI apiece for a Bell-Jeff program that has been atop the Santa Cruz for two consecutive seasons, but looking for equal success moving forward.
"Going undefeated wasn't our top priority," said Castaneda of his approach to Thursday's tilt with the Saints. "We wanted to work on things, and plays that we call. We want to be healthy again and look to be doing that."
Castaneda, who is in his second year at the helm, guided the Guards to their first league crown last season after 17 years of coming up short, and following a 5-11 campaign in 2009.
The Guards began the season ranked No. 3 in the CIF Division VII preseason poll.