After 23 years at Ventura College, Susan Johnson will finally coach her softball team in a home playoff game this weekend.
Which means there's only one word to describe No. 7 Ventura (32-7) and its best-of-three first-round series with No. 10 Glendale (27-13).
"Special," Johnson said.
Game 1 is Saturday at 2 p.m. Game 2 is Sunday at 10 a.m. with a decisive Game 3 to follow if necessary.
For decades the Pirates, which won their 10th Western State Conference title this season, have had to go on the road south or east to four-team regionals hosted by state powers.
"We've been a No. 5, we've been a No. 7," Johnson said. "We always had good teams."
Cost containment necessitated a new format in 2007, which introduced a first-round series to halve the field before regional play.
After being paired with top seed Riverside and defending state champion Mount San Antonio in recent years, VC has taken advantage of the new format this year with its winningest team since 2002.
Sophomore ace Teresa Lemos is 26-6 with a 1.30 ERA and 175 strikeouts in 199 innings. The Rio Mesa High product is also hitting .403 with a state-leading 11 triples. She's surrounded in the order with other weapons, like slugger Clarissa Samaniego, who's hitting .449 with eight doubles, four triples and four home runs in her past four games; shortstop Raelene Moreno, who's hitting .430 with 11 doubles and six home runs; and third baseman Candice Garcia, who's hitting .411 with seven doubles, nine triples and four home runs.
Ventura, which has won seven of its last eight games and built a 14-game winning streak in March, is hitting .339 as a team and averages 7.0 runs per game.
The hope is the sluggers will feel at home this weekend.
"This is huge for us," Johnson said. "We have good gap power. It's very significant playing here."
"We know how to play on our field," said Samaniego. "Our singles become doubles. Our doubles become triples. ... This is where we work hard every day."
It was pitching that lifted the Pirates over Glendale, 2-0, on Jan. 28, as Lemos threw a five-hit shutout.
"It was only our second game," said Johnson. "We were a different team. I'm sure they have improved as well."
Ventura has an opportunity for its first postseason wins since 2005, when it upset regional host Cerritos and played Fullerton for a berth in the state tournament.
"I just hope we have two good games," Johnson said. "We're proud of what we've done this year."