College Softball: Former Balers play key roles

Victoria Silva, a 2015 San Benito High graduate, is one of Gavilan's top pitchers this season.

Even in the ever changing landscape that is community college sports, the Gavilan College softball team represents something unique: An all-freshman squad consisting entirely of local players.
Ten of the 12 players on the Rams attended high schools in Gilroy, Hollister and Morgan Hill, with one player attending Yerba Buena in San Jose and the other St. Francis in Mountain View High. Gavilan entered Thursday’s Coast Conference South Division game against San Jose City at 3-12 overall and 0-2 in conference.
However, there are several great storylines within the team, most notably this: players from rival areas and schools—in this case, Christopher and San Benito—are now good friends. Sara Rickard, Victoria Silva, Yurixa Gonzalez, Elena Dozal and Angelisa Ortega all attended San Benito, while Mackenzie Holt, Karli Martinez and Jordan Evanger attended Christopher.
Holt, a left-handed pitcher, shed some light on being teammates with players who were once her rivals.
“When Sara first came to the team, I thought, ‘Oh God, Hollister girls,’” Holt said with a chuckle. “But after I met them, we’ve become close to each other. It was a bit strange at first because girls from Hollister are our rivals. It’s pretty cool all the girls from Gilroy and Hollister are hanging out, which is pretty funny. My dad said it was pretty crazy that we all used to talk crap about each other, and now we’re best friends. I didn’t think I’d have so many best friends on this team, but that’s what it’s turned out to be. There’s not one girl I don’t like.”
Even if the Rams don’t turn things around in the win-loss column, Rickard said there are plenty of positives playing for the Gavilan program. Rickard was a two-year varsity starter for a powerhouse Balers program that went a combined 46-9-1 in the last two years.
“Sometimes it’s not about winning,” the freshman shortstop said. “It’s really about getting better and helping others to get better. This is a great experience because I plan on being a coach one day.”
Holt and Rickard said one of the biggest adjustments to playing college softball was starting a strength-training program.
“Everyone was in the same boat at first,” Rickard said. “You had a bunch of little girls trying to lift weights—it was kind of funny. It was awkward at first, but now I wish I could’ve done weight lifting in high school. Getting stronger has really made a difference in throwing the ball. It’s very noticeable. I’ve got a little bump (bicep) on my arm that wasn’t there before.”
Said Holt: “Pitching is all about leg strength, and lifting weights has really helped me with my leg drive.”
Second baseman Makayla Gause, a Live Oak product, has experienced a breakthrough in her first year of playing at the community college level. Gause has always had speed on the basepaths, but she didn’t excel as a slap hitter until this season.
“I’ve been improving my slap a lot lately,” she said. “The key is coach (Nikki Dequin) showed me a different way of slapping, and I’ve been getting a lot of bunt singles.”
Gause throws right-handed but bats left-handed, a result of one of her former coaches switching her to the left side because of her speed. It turned out to be a great decision, because speedy slap hitters are difficult to keep off the basepaths. Gause played center field at Live Oak, but moved to the infield because of the team’s need.
Rickard and Gause are the team’s top hitters; Rickard leads the team in hits (16), batting average (.364) and slugging percentage (.523), while Gause has team best-marks in walks (9) and on-base percentage (.460).
The biggest position change involved Martinez, who played shortstop and third base at Christopher. However, the Rams needed a catcher, and Martinez has stepped in to fill a vital need. Holt and Martinez are best friends and have known each other since they were 10, when they started playing Little League Softball in Gilroy.
“At first I was scared of her,” Holt said. “She was all crazy and tough and I wasn’t. I’m glad she’s a catcher because she has a great arm and knows how to deal with a pitcher like me.”
“Karli is doing a great job,” Dequin said. “She’s a little spit fire, throwing out two of three runners (against Santa Rosa on Feb. 16). That’s pretty awesome, and it’s exciting to see her development.”
Holt’s other childhood friend on the team, outfielder Jordan Evanger, had never played softball until this season. Evanger played basketball and field hockey at Christopher, displaying athleticism in the process. A few weeks before the season started, Holt asked Evanger to come try out for the team.
Holt has been splitting time in the circle with Victoria Silva, a 2015 San Benito graduate.
“Both pitchers have made great improvement over the last few weeks,” said Dequin, who is in her 13th year as Gavilan’s coach. “Now we’re working on them on shutting the door and having that killer instinct to not letting teams get back in games when we have a lead on them.”
Holt said she throws her fastball in the upper 50s, and Silva possesses a tremendous riseball that has coincided with increased velocity on her pitches. The Rams also have Gilroy High product Amber Mendolla, Monica Padilla (Yerba Buena) and St. Francis graduate Jackie Giulianelli, who at 24 is the oldest player on the team.
Gonzalez actually attended Dickinson State in North Dakota on a softball scholarship last semester, but it wasn’t the right fit. The former San Benito standout registered for classes the day before the spring semester started, making her eligible to play on the team.

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