Mt. Whitney coach Ryan Miller and Tulare Western coach Ken Searcy talked about the mutual respect they had for each other's programs heading into their Central Section Division II semifinal game.
That respect was evident as two closely-matched teams treated a packed house at Taylor Field on the Tulare Western campus to a classic pitcher's duel.
In the end, it was Mt. Whitney's Ryan Guajardo leading the Pioneers to their second straight championship game appearance.
Guajardo tossed a complete-game shutout and the No. 8-seeded Pioneers defeated No. 5 Tulare Western 3-0.
"It was a good ballgame," Searcy said. "We both gave the fans what they paid for. It was a good day for baseball. You don't want to lose to the other guys, but Miller is a class act and runs a great program. He has my respect."
Another person that has Searcy's respect is Guajardo, who gave up just four hits and struck out eight.
"Guajardo brought his 'A' game and when he does that, he's hard to beat," Searcy said.
The senior retired the final 10 batters of the game and 13 of the final 14 batters. The one batter that reached base struck out but got to first on a wild pitch.
"He pitched today," Miller said. "We talk to him about throwing and pitching, and he flat-out pitched today. He hit his spots and got the breaking ball over early. My hat's off to him, and he got two hits on top of it."
Guajardo helped himself out at the plate. With the bases loaded in the top of the third inning, Guajardo hit a line drive just over the outstretched arms of Tulare Western shortstop Matt Cota and drove in a pair of runs.
Brenden Garcia followed with an RBI-double to cap the scoring for both teams.
Except for the third inning, Tulare Western pitcher Darrien Leal was just as unhittable as Guajardo.
Leal also went the distance, giving up the three runs on five hits and striking out eight.
"I got a little wild in that inning and those walks came back to bite me," Leal said. "One swing of the bat in the playoffs can make all the difference. Those guys, coach Miller does a great job with them. I've been playing with Guajardo and Garcia my whole life and I knew they would be tough to beat."
The Pioneers (16-15) will move on to the championship game where they will play No. 6 Edison (14-20) at 4:30 p.m. Thursday in Fresno.
Last season, Mt. Whitney eliminated Edison in the Division II semifinals on a controversial play to end the game that went Mt. Whitney's way.
"I'm sure there will be added fire to the game with how last year went down," Miller said. "The past is last year, but I'm sure it'll put a fire into it."
But the Pioneers aren't too focused on what happened last year. Instead they're focused on what's in front of them -- a chance for a Valley championship.
"We're just playing another team," Guajardo said. "We have to keep doing what we're doing and go out there. We're doing great. We're playing good defense, our dugout is loud, we're staying in the game and doing our job."
Miller likes what he sees out of his team, and he says they feel confident heading into the championship game. Even the players feel like the recipe for success is a simple one.
"We have to hit and play defense," Guajardo said. "[Garcia] will throw like he has been and we have to make plays for him."
The season came to an end one game sooner than Searcy would have liked, but he is proud of everything his senior-laded team accomplished.
"I got a lot of love for these seniors," Searcy said. "We've been around each other a lot these last four years. They've given a lot to this program. When the parents are away and nobody's around, we're not the easiest coaches to play for. We ask a lot of them and they do it."
The Mustangs, who graduate eight seniors, finished the season with a 19-13-1 overall record and won a share of the East Yosemite League championship.
"Words can't explain what I feel about these guys and the season we had," Leal said. " ... It speaks volumes, dealing with all the adversity, how we all came out and busted our butts to get to where we are now. It hurts to lose these games, but we can look back on the season and be happy about it."