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Blake Truhitte and Jon Ramos have been friends for a lot of years.

"We met during a baseball season when we were 11 or 12," Truhitte said.

Now the two are seniors at Santa Maria High School. Truhitte, a quarteback-defensive back who was the Lee Central Coast Newspapers All-Area MVP and Ramos, a wide receiver who made the All-Area First Team, teamed up during the Santa Maria football team's run that ended with a 37-23 loss to Big Bear in the CIF Southern Section Division 12 championship game after the Saints won the Northern League championship.

Now the two, and their basketball teammates, are trying to finish the job.

The Saints toppled overall top seed Garden Grove 60-53 at Garden Grove Tuesday night in the CIF Southern Section Division 5AAA quarterfinals, tagging the Argonauts with just their second loss this year.

Having bolstered their chops with a win against the top overall seed, on the road in what fourth-year Santa Maria coach Dave Yamate described afterward as a small gym and a hostile atmosphere no less, the Saints will take on La Puente at 7 p.m. Friday night at La Puente in the semifinals.

If the Saints win, they will take on either second-seeded Santa Clarita Christian or Bloomington March 2 or 3 for the title. If Santa Maria falls Friday night, the Saints might still have a chance for an at-large bid into the state tournament.

The divisional semifinal appearance will be the first for the Saints under Yamate. Santa Maria lost in the first round in each of his first two years at the helm and in the second round last year. Before this year, a Santa Maria boys basketball team had not been to a divisional semi since the 1980s.

As for the Warriors, "Coach (Yamate) told us we'll find out more about them tonight," said Ramos.

Yamate, Truhitte and Ramos spoke at a Santa Maria practice Thursday.

"We don't know much about them," Yamate said. "We'll find out more after we get to our hotel tonight and settle in.

"We're leaving right after practice. The traffic on a Friday morning in that area can be something else, and we wanted to avoid all that."

Yamate does know both teams are going into this one with a lot of momentum. The Saints (20-7) have won their last seven games. The Warriors (17-11) have won their last five.

In what definitely wouldn't be a new situation for them, the Saints figure to be at a height disadvantage Friday night. La Puente has one player who is listed at 6-foot-3 and two more at 6-2.

No stats on either team were available.

Santa Maria does have Ramos, who's listed at 6-4 and pulled down 10 rebounds to go with his 10 points in the quarterfinals, and Dajourre Burress who is a shot-blocking force inside. Other than that, the Saints don't go very tall.

What the Saints have excelled at is defense and the 3-point shot. They hit 10 of those, including eight in the second half after trailing 31-27 at halftime, in the quarterfinals.

Joey Nevarez is Santa Maria's best 3-point shooter. Besides being a consistent scorer around the basket, Truhitte is a strong 3-point shooter.

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Nevarez scored 24 points Tuesday night after scoring 31 in each of the Saints' first two playoff games and Truhitte, despite battling the flu, had 18. Truhitte said Thursday that he was still ill but, "I'm better than I was."

Along with being quick to get to offensive rebounds, Clark Kringel has made some key 3-point shots for the Saints, and a lot of other Santa Maria players have shown they can score from beyond the arc.

After winning in a small gym in a hostile environment, Yamate said he figures his team will run into the same situation Friday night as it did Tuesday night. "We heard (La Puente has) a small gym, and the place is gonna be rockin'," he said.

Yamate said he told his players that they needed to be playing their best basketball in February, and that is what has happened.

"We treated our last five games like playoff games, with a win-or-go-home atmosphere," said Yamate.

"I have nine seniors who have been in the trenches. I've had these guys for four years now. This is my first graduating class," said Santa Maria's coach, who also teaches health and physical education at Santa Maria.

Truhitte said, "We got a big win at Santa Ynez (61-54 in the Saints' penultimate regular season game), a big win at Nipomo (69-60 in a regular season finale), and we've been able to carry that over." Santa Maria and Santa Ynez tied for second place in the Los Padres League, behind league champion Cabrillo.

Santa Maria's point guard said he and Ramos haven't had much time to reflect on their big senior year. "We've been taking things as they come along," Truhitte said. "We've been executing, and we just need to execute Friday night."

Joe Bailey is the sports editor at Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Contact him with tips and story ideas at jbailey@leecentralcoastnews.com or (805) 739-2239. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jbaileysmsports

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