Adriana Ibarra back in the game as coach

Coach Adriana Ibarra along with Gia Felice, Laila Rueda and Sophia Verdegaal have led the Blackjacks 12-and-under softball team.

Adriana Ibarra has rebounded from a devastating moment by being around kids who remind her why she played the game in the first place. The 2015 San Benito High graduate suffered a torn labrum after her freshman season at San Jose City College in 2016, and ensuing complications resulted in her being forced to retire from the game.

For someone who had played softball since she could pretty much walk, Ibarra couldn’t believe her career was over before her 20th birthday. But the former Balers standout has found a way to stay in the game, and affect the next generation of Hollister softball players in the process.

Ibarra is in her first season as the coach of the Hollister Blackjacks 12-and-under ‘A’ team, just one division below the top Gold division in traveling softball.

“It was really tough at first to not be able to play competitively anymore, but getting this opportunity to coach makes it a lot easier because I’m around the game I love,” she said. “I get to coach younger girls and increase their knowledge of the game. I’ve had a great time with them.”

The roster includes Avery Martinez, Dominique Oliviera, Ariana Rivera, Gabrielle Rodriguez, Laila Rueda, Sophia Verdegaal, Aliyah Banderas, Emily Baumgartner, Shelly Cavazos, Melina Chavez, Gia Felice, Emma Gutierrez, Mikayla Hernandez Kassidy Magdelano and Sophia Mariottini, who is the team’s ace.

“Sophia is a groundball pitcher who has a lot of movement and sinking action on her pitches,” said Ibarra, a former standout left-handed pitcher who was part of three Central Coast Section Division I championship-winning teams with San Benito High.

Banderas and Gutierrez have also made an impact in the circle, providing solid innings in the half-dozen tournaments the team has played in this season. Felice has led the way offensively with a robust .703 batting average. Cavazos is hitting .489, Verdegaal .488 and Magdelano .422.

The team has won two tournaments, one in Sonora and the other in the East Bay. Ibarra felt the Memorial Day weekend tourney in Sonora was the squad’s defining moment. The Blackjacks came from behind in going 3-0 on the penultimate day of the tournament before capturing the championship on the final day with a dominating performance.

“We were on a roll on those final games on Sunday,” Ibarra said. “Our bats were hot, our pitching was great and our defense was awesome. The girls have grown up so much since the beginning of the season in February. It’s an amazing thing to look at their skill level now compared to what it was just months ago. They’re a completely different team.”

Ibarra said coaching this team has given her a depth of joy she never thought possible. Ibarra loves teaching the game to eager kids who play for the love of the game and want to make their coach proud. Ibarra had it in her mind that she would become a paramedic until coaching came along.

Although Ibarra still plans on going that route, she won’t rule out coaching as a full-time gig.

“I do see coaching as something that could be a full time thing for me some day,” she said. “I’ve had a great experience with the girls—I wouldn’t trade it in for anything. Don’t get me wrong—sometimes I wish I could be on the field and still be competing. But watching from the sidelines is just as great because the kids’ love of the game hasn’t changed. Seeing the girls put the work in and accomplishing their goals is what every coach wants.”

Ibarra said coaching the girls has changed her life in so many ways, and there’s little doubt the players have the same love for their coach. Rueda, who attends Rancho San Justo, dressed up as Ibarra for the school’s Dress Like Your Favorite Idol day.

“That was definitely touching to know I had impacted her enough to be her role model,” Ibarra said. “Knowing the kids look up to me is an awesome feeling and something I don’t take lightly.”

Ibarra loves the 12s level because the game is still more about having fun than producing specific results. Anything above the 12s—especially the gold level—the game skews toward glitzy showcase events, scholarships and high stakes.

“I definitely see that in the 14s, 16s and 18s,” Ibarra said. “But for us, the No. 1 priority is having fun. For No. 2, it’s bringing home that trophy.”

Blackjacks owner Andrew Barragan knows the local softball scene as well as anyone, and he felt Ibarra would be a great addition to the organization.

“He asked me if I was interested in coaching, and it sounded like a great opportunity,” Ibarra said. “The season started in February, and I’ve loved every moment. I knew coaching was in my future; I just thought I would have four more years to think about it. But I’m here for a reason, and I’m enjoying it.”

The Blackjacks 12-and-under team has thrived under first-year coach Adriana Ibarra.

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