SANTA PAULA — Different division, same result.
When the Bellarmine-Jefferson High softball team made the jump from CIF Southern Section Division VII to Division VI this season, some questioned whether the Guards would be able to compete on the higher level and maintain the level of success the program had enjoyed the previous two years in the playoffs.
Bell-Jeff advanced to the Division VII championship the two previous seasons before being moved up.
All those doubts were put to rest Tuesday, as the Guards punched their ticket to their third consecutive postseason title contest. Bell-Jeff disposed of host Santa Paula, 5-1, at Harding Park in a semifinal game to earn a spot in the Division VI final.
In the previous two title games, the Guards were defeated twice by Pomona Catholic, both by one run.
“It feels really good to be able to make it to the championship for the third year now,” said Bell-Jeff senior shortstop Monique Landini, who will be making her third straight start in a title game. “There are just so many emotions right now. We are so excited. We’re just going to go out and give it our best and hopefully the third time will be it for us.”
The championship game will take place either Friday or Saturday at a time to be determined at Deanna Manning Stadium in Irvine.
The No. 2-seeded Guards (21-10) were hoping to meet nemesis Pomona Catholic, the No. 1 seed, in the title game to exact some revenge. But that possible matchup was quelled when Pomona Catholic was upset Friday by Mary Star of the Sea, which went on to notch a 5-0 quarterfinal victory.
The Stars (20-8) continued their upset ways by defeating No. 4 Rosamond, 2-0, in a semifinal game Tuesday.
“We are fortunate that even though we got moved up in divisions, we were still able to make it to the championship game,” said Bell-Jeff Coach Florencio Galindo, whose team won the Santa Fe League title. “Look at what happened to Pomona Catholic. They weren’t able to make it back.
“I give our girls a lot of credit for battling and helping us to get here again. They really wanted to get back to the championship.”
The Guards will be trying to win the school’s first CIF championship in four years, when the girls’ basketball team won captured a title in 2009. A win in the title game would also be only the school’s third in any sport. The girls’ basketball program also won a crown in 1997.
To capture that championship, the Guards will likely have to rely on All-CIF junior pitcher Mia Acosta. Against Santa Paula (21-5) — the Frontier League champion — Acosta didn’t surrender an earned run, tossing a complete-game three-hitter. In addition, she struck out seven and walked two.
“I felt pretty good,” Acosta said. “I was a little nervous at the start, but then I got better.
Acosta was not only effective in the circle, but at the plate. She was two for four with three runs batted in and a run scored for the Guards, who had six of their starting nine batters end with multi-hit efforts.
Landini, who is headed to St. John’s, was two for four with two stolen bases and two runs scored and Priscilla Panizo was two for three with a double, a walk, a stolen base and an RBI.
It was the Cardinals who struck first in the bottom of the second, taking advantage of a Guards error and a run-scoring double by Cierra Hernandez to take a 1-0 lead.
“When we got behind, we just had to pick up the energy and the intensity and we were able to do that,” said Bell-Jeff second baseman Tiffany Galindo, who was two for four with a run. “We don’t worry too much when we get behind because we know we can always come back.”
The Guards tied the score at 1 in the fourth. Sophia Palacios (two for four with a run) singled to left field and was brought home on a hit to center by Panizo.
Bell-Jeff broke the game open in the fifth inning, bringing nine players to the plate and scoring three runs. The big hit of the inning was a two-run double by Acosta.
“Once we scored those three runs in that inning, I felt a lot better,” Florencio Galindo said. “I think after that they settled down out there and you could see they were more relaxed.”
The Guards made it 5-1 with a run in the sixth inning, as Landini reached base on a fielder’s choice and scored on a single by Acosta.