Softball: Balers a perennial powerhouse

Brittnee Rossi, Dominique Monteon, Amanda Moisa and Sara Christensen are four of the top returners from a Balers team that won a 10th CCS DI title last season.

When it comes to winning section championships, the San Benito High softball team is unrivaled by any other team sport at the school. The Haybalers, who open the 2017 season Thursday at home against Alvarez, are coming off a 10th Central Coast Section Division I playoff championship.

“The team is looking good,” second-year Balers coach Andrew Barragan said. “I like where we’re at and what we can do.”

This year the challenge to win another CCS title will be greater, as the first-ever Open Division format for CCS softball has been implemented. That means San Benito would be in a field that would likely include Pioneer and Mitty. The three programs are widely considered the best in the section, and the Balers would probably have to go through both of those powerhouse squads to win another championship.

Here’s why San Benito can get it done: Despite losing two of the best hitters in program history in Callee Heen and Suzy Brookshire, it returns over a half-dozen starters along with sophomore catcher Amber Rodriguez, a North Monterey County transfer who has already made a verbal commitment to play at Division I program Weber State University in Utah.

Some of the key returnees include center fielder Brittnee Rossi, who has made a verbal commitment to play at the University of Hawaii; shortstop Dominique Monteon, a North Carolina commit; pitcher Amanda Moisa, who logged approximately 90 percent of the team’s innings a year ago; Sara Christensen, who batted .426 last season; McKayla Johnson, who has committed to play at the University of Dallas; Ayla Gabel, who has committed to play at Academy of Art in San Francisco; Rylee Roberson, who can play every position but pitcher; right fielder Chloe Cortez, whose speed, arm and ability to hit to all fields make her a solid all-around player; left outfielder Noel Chavarria, who came up with key hits during the team’s title run last season; and Alyssa Ito, who adds depth to the infield positions.

In addition to Moisa, Barragan said freshman pitcher Julia Woeste will provide the team with a dependable No. 2 starter—and eventually someone who is in line to be a No. 1.

“It’s good to have that No. 2 pitcher to complement Amanda,” Barragan said. “We’re not going to miss too much when we don’t have Amanda out there.”

Simply put, the Balers have it all: pitching, hitting and defense. In addition, they have a coach in Barragan who pushed all the right buttons in his inaugural season a year ago. Barragan had great things to say about the speedy Rossi, the leadoff hitter extraordinaire who is downright lethal on the basepaths.

Rossi, who had an on-base percentage of over .500 in 2016, has come back stronger than ever—literally.

“Brittnee had a great off-season. She bulked up and powered up big time,” Barragan said. “We’re expecting some legit power from her. She’s got some pop in her bat.”

Monteon is a superb talent and has matured mentally and physically, Barragan said. Rodriguez should be one of the best catchers in the section, with a rifle for an arm and terrific defensive skills. Barragan has been impressed with the at-bats from Gabel, who has been crushing the ball in practice. Once again, San Benito has a team that will be one of the favorites to win a section title.

But there’s another big reason why the players and coaches have plenty of good vibes entering the upcoming season: For the first time in program history, the team will play all of its home games at the newly renovated softball field at Vets Park.

“It’s beautiful,” Barragan said. “I had the Carmel coach come out, and he said it’s one of the best looking fields in the CCS. It’s legit, man.”

The softball field at Vets was in need of a serious overhaul, starting with the gopher-infested outfield that posed a safety hazard, Barragan said. In addition to a new outfield, the infield features the same mixture that is used at AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. The scoreboard, bleachers and dugout benches are all new.

In addition, the facility features a shed beyond left field that houses all of the equipment, including brooms, rakes, chalk, paint, and portable red fences. The backstop and announcer’s booth were remade. The renovations cost approximately $57,000, and it was paid for by Barragan’s family-owned business, Barragan Family Memorial.

Barragan said his mom—who is the owner of the business—was more than happy to fund the facility upgrades. Barragan is supremely proud that the team has a first-class facility to practice and play at, and the players are pretty pumped as well. After all, the softball fields at San Benito High aren’t exactly the best facilities around.

“I really didn’t think a program like this deserved to play on a field like that (at the high school),” Barragan said. “I’m thinking to myself, ‘Hey man, the softball team is a 10-time CCS champion, and they’re playing on dust. … The girls love the place they’re playing at now. They take pride in that field. You don’t have to tell them to grab a rake or put the bases away, because they know the time that was put into making that field they get to play on. (In terms of maintenance) it’s always a team effort. They want that field to look good, and they know it’s up to them to keep that field looking good during the season.”

The San Benito High softball team finally has its field of dreams, and by late May it’ll be trying to put the finishing touches on a dream season with another CCS championship.

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