Most of the Bellarmine-Jefferson High softball players don't have fond memories of Deanna Manning Stadium.
The previous two seasons, the venue in Irvine has been the stage of two disappointing losses for the Guards.
In 2011, Bell-Jeff appeared in its first-ever softball championship game, only to lose to powerful Pomona Catholic, 7-6, in the Division VII final. It was another disappointing loss in 2012, as the Guards again fell short of a Division VII championship in a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Pomona Catholic again.
Unfortunately for Pomona Catholic, it will not be making a third straight appearance in a title game; but Bell-Jeff will, having made it back to Deanna Manning Stadium despite making the jump to Division VI.
The Guards will play for the Division VI championship at 10 a.m. Saturday against San Pedro Mary Star of the Sea.
"Getting to the championship and not winning it two times in a row is tough," Bell-Jeff Coach Florencio Galindo said. "It takes a lot to get to a championship and to make it all the way there and lose by one both times is tough."
The Bell-Jeff players are anxious to get the opportunity to redeem themselves and finally bring home a championship.
"We've been there three times in a row and we just want to win it," junior second baseman Tiffany Galindo said. "I'm really excited and I know the rest of the girls are, too. We just want the game to come right now so we don't have to wait."
Senior Monique Landini said she thinks the experience the Guards bring after being in two title games will be valuable.
"Since we've been there, we really know what to expect," the shortstop said. "I know we're going to be nervous, but we've been through it and it's not going to be all new to us. We're hoping that will help us win it."
Bell-Jeff (22-10) — which won its fourth straight Santa Cruz League championship — entered the playoffs as the division's No. 2 seed. The Guards breezed through the first two rounds of the postseason, defeating Frazier Mountain, 10-1, in the opener and easily downing Pasadena Poly, 8-0, in a second-round contest. The Guards found trouble, however, in the quarterfinals, squeaking out a 3-1 victory against Cantwell Sacred Heart before getting past Santa Paula, 5-1, in a semifinal Tuesday.
The Stars (20-8) — winners of the Camino Real League — pulled off a pair of upsets in their road to the final. The biggest feat was defeating No. 1 Pomona Catholic, 5-0, in the quarterfinals May 24. Mary Star continued its upset ways by defeating No. 4 Rosamond, 2-0, in a semifinal game Tuesday. The Stars also notched a playoff wins against Chadwick (4-1) in the first round and were awarded a forfeit victory against Shadow Hills in the second round.
"We know that Mary Star has a very good pitcher," Florencio Galindo said. "She has had some good games in the playoffs and she throws hard. But we've faced our share of good pitchers this season and I think we'll do fine."
That pitcher is sophomore Marina Vitalich (20-8). Against two-time defending champion Pomona Catholic in the quarterfinals, Vitalich threw a two-hit shutout with 13 strikeouts in notching the win. In Tuesday's semifinal, she tossed another two-hit shutout while striking out nine against Rosamond.
The Guards have an accomplished pitcher of their own in junior Mia Acosta (13-2). Acosta is a reigning All-CIF selection.
"We know we have the pitching and we have a very good defense," Florencio Galindo said. "We have to just make sure we come through with our hitting."
The Guards will be trying to win the school's first CIF championship in four years, when the girls' basketball team captured a title in 2009. A win in the title game would also be only the school's third in any sport since Bell-Jeff was founded 69 years ago. The girls' basketball program also won a crown in 1997.