Softball: Balers going for 10th CCS title

Balers junior Cassidy Aalgaard takes a pitch against Piedmont Hills in their season-opener on Feb. 27.

Players from the San Benito High softball team were going through their usual pre-practice stretches when the music came on. On this day, the first couple of songs came from the pop rock and hip-hop genres.
“But tomorrow it could be all country,” said Andrew Barragan, who is in his first year as the San Benito coach. “As long as they keep on working hard, I don’t mind this (playing music during practice).”
To state the obvious, a new era has begun with the San Benito High softball team. Gone is former coach Scott Smith, who was at the helm when the Haybalers became one of the premier programs in Northern California. Barragan, who is the owner of Blackjacks and previously was the pitching coach for the baseball team, is in.
Although there is a different coach heading the team, one thing should remain the same: the Balers are going to win a lot of games. This season they are loaded once again, returning most of the starters that played on a team that won the program’s ninth section title last year, 8-5 over Wilcox.
The top three returners—Nos. 3, 4 and 5 hitters Suzy Brookshire, Callee Heen and Madisyn Gutierrez-Urban—are all seniors and captains this season. Heen has signed a scholarship to play at Hawaii-Manoa, and Brookshire with Sacramento State. Gutierrez-Urban might not be far behind, as she is coming off a strong junior season. But what makes the trio so special is their willingness to help the less experienced players on the squad.
“Like you said, they’re very professional when it comes to their approach,” Barragan said. “They’re willing to help the younger girls. They’ll see an underclassmen struggling in a drill or not understanding mentally what to do in a certain situation, and they’ll pull them aside and explain to them how to do it. They get them to relax, which makes the whole team relax. And by no means do any of these girls have chips on their shoulders. We’ve got two D-I players, but you wouldn’t even know it because they just want to have fun.”
Barragan said as long as the players are focused, execute and work hard, they’ll be free to play music throughout the season. The Balers opened the season with two games on Feb. 27 in the Michael de Jesus Memorial Tournament. In its first game, San Benito ripped Piedmont Hills, 13-1.
In the second game, the Balers whipped Palo Alto, 16-3. Both games were called after five innings. The day before, a couple of players from the basketball team—including Heen, Gutierrez-Urban and Ashley Sparrer—joined the squad for their first softball practice.
They didn’t miss a beat, as Heen hit a home run against Palo Alto, a 240-foot moon shot to right-center field. Meanwhile, Gutierrez-Urban compiled three hits and four stolen bases in the two victories. The Balers return their entire outfield with center fielder Brittnee Rossi, left fielder Noel Chavarria and right fielder Chloe Cortez. The speedy Rossi went 5 for 6 in the two games from her customary leadoff spot.
Chavarria and Cortez are both sophomores, while Rossi is a junior. The trio plays standout defense, as does the infield. Heen plays shortstop, Gutierrez-Urban first base and Brookshire catcher.
Freshman sensation Dominique Monteon, who has committed to play at the University of North Carolina, went 6 for 7 in the first two games and plays second base. Junior Makayla Johnson and freshman Sara Christensen are vying for the starting position at third base.
Barragan is confidant defense will be one of the team’s many strong points.
“The defense is stellar,” he said. “It’s going to be hard for someone to pump one (a ball) over someone’s head in the outfield, and it’ll be hard to get a ball through the infield.”
The Balers don’t have a weakness, but their lack of experience in the circle is an area where Barragan could make a big difference. Sophomore Amanda Moisa and junior Hallie Fortney will both get a ton of innings early in the season, as the team plays in two tournaments before the start of league play in two weeks.
Neither pitcher saw much time on the varsity team last season, and that’s where Barragan’s previous coaching experience should come in handy. Since pitching is Barragan’s specialty, he’ll be working with Moisa and Fortney to make sure they develop, with the goal that one or both of them will develop into a bona-fide ace at some point in the season.
“I told the girls in order to pitch for me, you’ll have to pitch inside,” he said. “We have an understanding that we’re going to pound the inside part of the plate.”
Barragan added that Moisa has been pinpoint accurate with her fastball, and Fortney has induced several fly-ball outs.
“Whatever adjustments I ask Amanda to make, she does it,” Barragan said. “And Hallie throws a heavy ball that has a natural drop. They’re both going to do some good things for us. As long as they can hit their spots and make their pitches, they’ll be fine because they’ve got eight players behind them that can flash the leather.”

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