Even with a considerable wind at its back, the Santa Maria offense, with Bakersfield Centennial defenders effectively clogging the middle around their 10-yard-line, couldn't break through in the second half Wednesday night.
Then Centennial defender Conner Meeks was red-carded after fouling a Santa Maria player then saying something untoward, and things changed.
With the Golden Hawks a man down, the second-seeded Saints popped in three goals in the last 17 minutes and second-seeded Santa Maria defeated No. 15 Centennial 3-0 at the Saints' Ralph Baldiviez Stadium in the first round of the CIF Central Section Division 1 Playoffs.
"When they were a man down, they couldn't pressure as much and the touches were easier for us," said Santa Maria coach Eduardo Cuna.
The Saints (21-3-3) will play No. 7 Bakersfield Ridgeview at 6 p.m. Friday night at Ralph Baldiviez Stadium in the quarterfinals. Ridgeview edged No. 10 Clovis 2-1 Wednesday night.
Centennial finished 10-7-5.
With three defenders surrounding him, Lalo Rodriguez drilled a shot in the left corner of the net from 20 yards out for the first goal.
"In the first half, we were kind of asleep," said Rodriguez.
"That includes me. In the second half, I decided to get more active and try to help my team win."
Rodriguez was indeed plenty active in the second half after a first half in which neither team got much going on offense, though Centennial applied some good pressure in the early minutes.
Several minutes after his goal, Rodriguez flicked a beautiful pass to Johnny Santos, and Santos knocked the ball home in the 76th minute. In the 78th, Centennial goalkeeper Brady Hifill came out of the box, but Erick Romero out-maneuvered him and scored.
Hifill kept the score from being more lopsided after the red card. A few minutes after the Rodriguez goal, he knocked a penalty kick over the top post. Earlier, he stopped some promising Santa Maria forays.
The Golden Hawks didn't challenge Santa Maria goal keeper Osualado Andrade much, but Andrade was up to the challenge when they did.
He picked the right times to come out of the box to break up Centennial forays. After the Rodriguez goal, he prevented a would-be own goal against the Saints when he reached up and snared a pretty hard ball one of his defenders booted toward him.
"The red card made things easier," Rodriguez acknowledged. "We knew that if we just kept up the pressure the goals would come," and come, they did.
Cuna said his team also helped itself by playing smarter on offense. "We used the wings more, and that opened more things up for us."
Erick Manuel Contreras gave the Saints a big boost by controlling play in the midfield area much of the second half.
Lemoore 4, Nipomo 0
LEMOORE - The No. 4 Tigers defeated the No. 13 Titans in a Division 3 first-round game.
Bakersfield Independence 70, Nipomo 60
BAKERSFIELD - The No. 4 Falcons out-scored the No. 13 Titans by 12 points in the fourth quarter to win this Division 2 first-rounder.
Daren Sosa popped in 28 points, and made three 3-pointers, for the Titans. Carrmelo Hernandez (10 points, 11 rebounds) had a double-double for Nipomo. Hernandez had five assists. Ethan Uva scored 14 points and snared seven rebounds for the Titans.