At 1-2, the San Benito High softball team found itself in unfamiliar territory entering Thursday night’s game against Carmel—with a sub .500 record for the first time since 2007, when it started the year 1-3 before winning 27 of its next 28 games en route to league and Central Coast Section titles. Although this year’s team isn’t expected to repeat that incredible run, it is still formidable.
Even though some opponents in the Monterey Bay League are ready to pounce on the Haybalers’ early-season vulnerability—Salinas players clearly enjoyed their 8-3 win over San Benito last Friday—the Balers feel everything will be fine after the initial adjustment period.
“I definitely think it’s very weird for us (to be 1-2),” said Noel Chavarria, a junior left fielder and starter since her freshman year. “We normally don’t have this type of record. I feel like we’re kind of playing like individuals right now instead of as a team. It’s really hard to get everyone together, and it doesn’t seem like there’s a sense of urgency. We haven’t clicked yet this season.”
Balers coach Andrew Barragan said he never has to worry about Chavarria’s level of intensity on the field.
“Noel has the most energy on the team,” Barragan said. “Sometimes she needs to slow the game down for her sake. She is a true leader on and off the field. Never once has she questioned any of my moves. She has bought into my system more than any other girl on the team.”
Chavarria is liable to bring down makeshift fences to catch a ball, as was the case in the Salinas game when she backpedaled furiously in an attempt to catch a home run off the bat of Leslie Romero in the top of the seventh inning. Chavarria, who is also a standout on the girls volleyball team as a defensive specialist, said softball is her favorite sport.
“I’ve been playing softball my whole life,” she said. “I think I was 4 when I first started playing, and I remember how much I loved just diving and getting dirty on the field. It was life changing in a way.”
Chavarria always takes a deep breath in between pitches, then sets up in her textbook batting stance. She has the ability to direct the ball where it needs to go, as was the case in the Salinas game when she hit a grounder in between the shortstop and third baseman for a run-scoring single in the bottom of the seventh inning.
“I looked and realized there was a gap there, and knew what I needed to do” she said. “It felt pretty good to pull that off.”
Chavarria, who was hitting fifth in the lineup, had two hits and a team-best two RBIs. Chavarria grew up watching her older sister, Lexi, a 2016 San Benito High graduate, and her mom, Lindsey, play sports and wanting to be just like them. Chavarria has honed her game through years of practice, culminating with a starting spot on one of the most tradition-rich prep programs in Northern California.
Chavarria also plays for the San Jose Sting, a renowned travel ball team.
“My development throughout the years has been phenomenal,” she said. “I keep improving and I want to keep improving and hopefully reach the NCAA level.”
Chavarria was at her best against Salinas. In addition to producing a pair of run-scoring singles, Chavarria made a sensational defensive play in the top of the second inning. With one out, Chavarria made a nice catch before throwing a dart to first base for a double play. Teammate Dominique Monteon also had a nice game, finishing with two hard-hit singles and a double.
The Balers followed up the Salinas game with an 8-3 loss to perennial power Mitty. San Benito led 3-1 in the fifth inning only to see the Monarchs score the final seven runs to win going away. Balers pitcher Julia Woeste shut out Mitty through the first four innings before running into a bit of trouble in the fifth.
However, it was a sterling performance from the freshman, who will probably see a lot more time in the circle if she continues to pitch like she did against Mitty.