BURBANK — Heading into Thursday's game with St. Anthony, the Bellarmine-Jefferson High softball team possessed a group of seniors that had won three straight Santa Cruz League championships. In addition, that contingent of players had never even lost a league game.
The Guards and that group had a chance to keep those streaks in tact and secure the program's fifth consecutive title when they hosted the Saints on senior day at Gross Park.
However, if they were going to accomplish that feat they would have to come back against St. Anthony, which jumped out to a two-run lead in the top of the first inning.
Bell-Jeff easily erased the deficit in its half of the first, seized the momentum in the game and cruised to a 12-5 victory at home to secure the crown.
In capturing the fifth-straight title, the Guards, who are ranked No. 1 in CIF Southern Section Division VI and are the division's defending champion, improved to 12-3-2 and 6-0 in league. Bell-Jeff also increased its league winning streak to 38, a string that dates back to 2009.
The Guards can notch another undefeated league campaign with wins Tuesday at Pius X-St. Matthias and Thursday at St. Genevieve.
One of the four-year Bell-Jeff seniors is catcher Samantha Casarez, who aided in the victory by going three for three with a walk and four runs scored.
"It is just so exciting to be able to win a league title for the fourth time," Casarez said. "I just feel honored and privileged to be able to do that and to be on the team this year with these girls. It's kind of mind blowing to think that when I came in as a freshman that I would be able to win four times in league, but it's really great."
The Guards were able to defeat St. Anthony (12-7, 3-3) by pounding out 15 hits.
Doing her share of damage at the plate for Bell-Jeff was senior starting pitcher Mia Acosta, who hits in the No. 2 spot. Acosta went three for three with a three-run home run and five runs batted in.
In the circle, Acosta gave up two earned runs, scattered seven hits, struck out nine and walked two.
Acosta got into a little trouble right off the bat in the circle, however, when the Saints scored two runs in the top of the first inning. The senior gave up a run-scoring triple and a single in the frame. Another run was scored on a groundout.
"I usually don't get nervous when we fall behind, but today I got a little nervous," said Acosta, a former All-CIF Southern Section selection. "I guess the nerves got to me a little it being a big game, my last home game and being honored with the seniors.
"But I know that we have the ability to fight back. We have some good hitters and it's only a matter of time until we score."
That time was short indeed, as Bell-Jeff came back to tally three runs in its half of the first to take a 3-2 advantage. Casarez started things off by drawing a one-out walk and then stealing second base. Casarez was plated by a single to center by Cristina Colon (two for three), who scored on an error. Sofia Palacios (two for three with a walk) followed with a walk and eventually scored on a base hit to center by Jessica Pereyra.
"I think after they fought back and made it 3-2 in that first inning, it kind of settled them down and they could relax a little bit," Bell-Jeff Coach Florencio Galindo said. "We have had some games where we fall behind early, but we know we have the offense to get those runs back.
"[St. Anthony] has a good pitcher with a different kind of delivery and they have some good hitters, so we knew it wasn't going to be easy for us."
The Guards added to their lead and went in front, 6-2, by scoring three runs in the second. Palacios had a run-scoring double, Acosta drove in a run with a single and Colon plated a run with a sacrifice fly to center field.
The Saints did make thing interesting, tallying single runs in the third and fourth innings to whittle the lead down to 6-4. However, Bell-Jeff again responded to the challenge, as Acosta blasted a three-run home and Priscilla Panizo (two for four) doubled and scored on an error to tally four runs in its half of the fourth and push the advantage up to 10-4.
Tiffany Galindo was two for four with two runs scored for Bell-Jeff.
"We always want to win league, that's our first priority," Casarez said. "Now that we've done that, we can be off to bigger and better things."
Follow Jeff Tully on Twitter: @jefftsports.