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The St. Francis baseball Tim Susnara (6) watches the ball go to right field to bring in the winning run 2-1 against St. Mary's of Stockton in the ninth inning during the annual Elite 8 tournament at St. Francis High School, Calif., on Tuesday, April 22, 2014. (Josie Lepe/Bay Area News Group)

MOUNTAIN VIEW -- One season after winning its first Central Coast Section baseball championship in a dozen years, St. Francis has the looks of a team that could win it again.

The Lancers are in first place in the powerful West Catholic Athletic League with four games remaining and are once again ranked among the state's top teams.

But this season has been nothing like last year for the Lancers. In fact, if not for the dominance of its pitchers, particularly starters John Gavin and Tyler Deason, St. Francis probably would not be in such a nice perch.

Gavin began this week with a 0.28 ERA over 50 innings and a 5-0 record. Deason started the week with a 0.36 ERA over 39 innings and a 6-1 record. The team's ERA: 0.61.

"It's the only reason that we've won games," coach Mike Oakland said of the pitching. "Our offense has not been very good at all. At times it has done enough. But if we didn't have the pitching, we'd be in trouble."

Prime example

Less than 24 hours after Oakland made those comments, his team played a game that typified its season. Deason pitched a gem Tuesday, yet the Lancers trailed St. Mary's of Stockton 1-0 with one out in the bottom of the seventh.

Ryan McSwain's double sent the game to extra innings, and Tim Susnara's double two innings later won it for St. Francis.

"I had faith the whole time," said Deason, who allowed four hits while pitching all nine innings. "It's just a matter of when it happens."

The narrow win marked the 12th time this season St. Francis has played a game decided by two runs or fewer. The Lancers are 10-2 in those games.

"We're starting to get used to the fact we're always going to be in a tight game," Oakland said.

Numbers tell story

When the Lancers went 30-4 last season on their way to the CCS Division I championship, they averaged 6.58 runs per game and hit .346 as a team.

Heading into the second round of their Elite 8 Classic tournament Wednesday night, they had a batting average of .276 and were averaging 3.85 runs per game.

"It's a big difference from last year, where we'd be winning 10-1 or 10-0," the Oregon-bound Susnara said. But, he added, this year "we could go down 1-0 to the sixth or seventh, and we know that we're going to be able to come back, and that doesn't bother us at all."

Despite its limited offense, St. Francis has done enough to be ranked fifth in the state by Cal-Hi Sports and No. 1 in the area by the Mercury News.

The state ranking would have been higher had the Lancers won the Northern California title last week at the Boras Classic in Sacramento, a tournament started by agent Scott Boras that brings the state's top 32 teams (16 Northern, 16 Southern) to one event.

St. Francis lost to Elk Grove 2-1 in the NorCal final, preventing the Lancers from advancing to play Southern California champion Temecula Valley in an unofficial state title game.

Still on track

That setback aside, the team has its primary goals well within reach. With a 17-3 record through Tuesday's game, the Lancers are on pace to win at least a share of the WCAL title for the fifth straight year.

And with essentially two aces on the staff, they also will likely be the favorite to win the first CCS Open Division title for baseball.

But Gavin, bound for Cal State Fullerton, knows it will not be easy.

"In the three years that I've been up on varsity, this is probably the closest talent-wise that each team has," Gavin said of the WCAL. "Each team has one or two good arms, a couple of good bats and all coached really well. It's a grind every single game."

So far, St. Francis has done just enough to stay on course.