Nearly a year after winning a CIF title, it appears the Saints still have the heart of a champion.
Santa Maria's baseball team rallied from a 5-3 deficit against Lompoc Wednesday, capturing an 8-5 victory in eight innings at Dan Bodary Field in Lompoc.
Down 5-4 in the seventh, Santa Maria freshman Brayan Nunez laced a seeing-eye single to score Trevor Garcia and tie the game.
Then, in the top of the eighth, Marc Estrada blasted a line drive toward the fence in right with the bases loaded for a game-winning three-run double.
"I just thought I had to come through for the team. I had to hit the ball," Estrada said. "I had to adjust. I got walked once and then beaned twice, so I knew this was my shot."
Nunez, who is just 14 and won't turn 15 till August, doesn't play like a freshman.
"I just give it my all," said Nunez, who is known to teammates as Chino. "Not all freshmen come up to varsity, I just try to give it my all every game."
Nunez has realized the game is played at a different pace at the varsity level. He also notices the confidence level of this team coming off a CIF Southern Section Division 6 title.
"You have to be faster, you have to be quicker," Nunez said. "There's a quicker velocity. You have to be fast and have fast hands and be ready. We're trying to win CIF again. You have to try your hardest on this field and off the field. We're like brothers."
Santa Maria starter Trevor Garcia, who was touching 85 mph on the radar gun, was effective through four innings of work.
Slim Lopez was dominant in relief, striking out the side in the eighth inning to end the game.
Lopez also struck out the final two batters of the seventh inning, forcing Lompoc to leave the bases loaded. Lopez had nine strikeouts in four innings of relief work. Garcia went four and struck out four.
Lompoc's Ruben Cortez, fresh off leading the Braves to successful football and basketball runs during the fall and winter, settled down after allowing three runs in the first inning.
Braves shortstop Jeff Ray blasted a two-run home run in the bottom of the inning to cut Santa Maria's lead to 3-2.
Justin Allen tied the game with a sacrifice fly to right field that scored Connor Hayes in the second.
The Braves then tacked on two runs in the third inning, as Oscar Rojas' hard shot to short couldn't be fielded by Santa Maria, allowing Ray to score.
Then, with Rojas at third, Hayes hit a grounder to first and first baseman Austin Peinado initially went for the bag, then fired home too late to get Rojas at the plate for a 5-3 Lompoc lead.
The Saints got a run back in the sixth. Philip Becerra led off the inning with a bloop single in shallow left field to give the Saints two runners on with no outs. Lopez then hit a sharp grounder to Ray at short. Ray flipped to second before the throw to first got away from Rojas allowing JuJu Esparza to score.
Ray then ended the inning with a nice play, catching Tommy Herrera's line drive and getting the force at second for a double play.
In the bottom of the sixth, Estrada made a stellar diving catch in center field to take a hit away from Justin Allen and end the inning.
Garcia then started the seventh inning with a hard double to left field. Estrada moved Garcia to third with a high fly to foul territory in right field.
Nunez then came up and drove in Garcia to tie the game.
The Braves threatened again in the seventh against Lopez. Kaleb Ramirez singled and was pinch ran for, with the runner moving to second on a passed ball. Ray was then intentionally walked before Peinado made a nifty 3-1 putout for the first out of the inning.
Saints manager Rick Hebert then elected to intentionally walk Rojas to load the bases. The moved paid off as Lopez struck out the next two batters to end the inning.
Esparza led off the eighth with a walk. Lopez then smoked a single to put runners at the corners. Herrera laid down a clean bunt, but wasn't able to score Esparza from third. The Braves issued a pass to Garcia to load the bases and bring Estrada up.
Estrada promptly crushed a double to right-center that cleared the bases.
Lopez then finished off his strong relief performance with three strikeouts in the bottom of the eighth.
Santa Maria is now 2-0 on the season with two league wins. Lompoc, meanwhile, is now 2-1 and 1-1 in league. The Braves played an eight-inning game on Tuesday, beating rival Cabrillo 4-3.
Wednesday's game was originally scheduled for Thursday, but was moved up due to the impending weather.