The San Benito High softball team is judged on winning championships. Not just league titles, but Central Coast Section titles. However, that doesn’t mean one can’t appreciate the body of work the Haybalers have accomplished this season. Simply put, San Benito—which enters Thursday’s regular-season finale against Notre Dame-Salinas having already clinched the Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division championship—has been strong against arguably the toughest schedule in school history.
In addition to playing Central of Fresno in a non-league contest, the Balers took on a number of winning programs in the Las Vegas Spring Jamboree and the power-packed NorCal Classic in Tracy. The one ‘B’ level team San Benito played in Carmel won its league championship.
“If you look at our schedule, there’s not one team where you’d say, ‘Why we did we play them,’” Barragan said. “It stems from our game plan of wanting the girls to play the toughest competition. Going into CCS, we’re not going to play anyone who we haven’t seen before (from a talent standpoint). I tell the girls what they’re doing is amazing. We have seen the best of the best.”
And thrived. Nowhere was that more apparent than in a 3-2 win in eight innings over Watsonville on May 4, which clinched an outright league title. Facing UNLV-bound pitcher Jessica Rodriguez for the second time this season, San Benito broke through in the top of the eighth on Chloe Cortez’s two-out, two-run single.
Cortez also had a huge role in accounting for the team’s first run when she sacrificed herself while attempting to steal second base, allowing Ashley Sparrer to score from third base in the second inning. The junior right fielder is part of an outfield—which includes left fielder Noel Chavarria and center fielder Brittnee Rossi—that is one of the best in Northern California.
“They made some spectacular plays against Watsonville,” Barragan said. “I mean over the shoulder catches—things like that. It was ridiculous.”
On a team of standouts, Cortez stays out of the spotlight, doing her job with precision and consistency. The left-handed hitting Cortez is patient at the plate, makes excellent decisions in the field and has the physical skills to produce time and again.
“Chloe is one of the team captains and has really stepped up into a leadership role,” Barragan said. “She’s doing it with her bat and glove. I’d love to have 12 of her because she’s all business. At the plate, her swing is so fluid and relaxed, and with two strikes she’s productive. She’s been ice.”
Catcher Amber Rodriguez has also been productive in timely hitting situations, a big reason why the Balers lineup—unbelievably enough—is scoring at a clip similar to last year’s team that had Division I-bound players Callee Heen and Suzy Brookshire. A year ago, those two players combined for a whopping 25 home runs.
Although the entire team probably won’t combine for that total this season, the reality is they don’t have to. They’re scoring runs by getting on base, moving runners over and producing hits in the later innings.
“This year the hitting has been a collaborative effort,” Barragan said. “Amber and Chloe have come up with runners in scoring position, and they’ve come through big time.”
Rodriguez has been a force defensively, and you’d have to question the sanity of an opposing coach who dare runs on her.
“No one dares to run on Amber—or they shouldn’t,” Barragan said. “She’s got an absolute hose.”
In the team’s first game against Watsonville, a 5-4 win on April 4, it was Rodriguez who delivered a walk-off victory on a two-run single with one out. San Benito entered the bottom of the seventh trailing 4-3 only to come through when it counted the most. Barragan knows his team must continue to improve, as it will play in the section’s first-ever Open Division for softball.
“We were blessed to win against Watsonville,” Barragan said. “They had their opportunities to really put a dent in our momentum, but they didn’t execute.”
Balers ace Amanda Moisa allowed just one run over 6 2/3 innings, and freshman Julia Woeste pitched the final 1 2/3 innings to record the win. Moisa had to leave the game due to an asthma attack, Barragan said, giving Woeste an opportunity to shine again. When Moisa was out of action for three games starting in late April, Woeste yielded only one run over 20 innings of work.
Against Watsonville, Woeste gave up a leadoff single in the bottom of the eighth. However, the right-hander induced a pop out, strikeout and fly out to seal the outcome. It’s apparent Woeste is no ordinary freshman. Woeste’s maturity shows in the fact that her expression rarely changes, whether she strikes a hitter out or gives up a hit.
“You can never tell by looking at Julia if she just lost the game or won the game,” he said. “She has the same expression on her face.”
That was also the case against Watsonville, when Woeste closed things out with a sparkling eighth inning.
“It could’ve been a disaster because she’s young, but she really picked it up,” Barragan said. “I can’t tell you how impressed I’ve been with Julia this season.”