For the first time in history, a travel ball softball team from the South Valley and Central Coast has won a title at the Premier Girls Fastpitch (PGF) National Championships at the 18-and-under level. The Salinas Storm 18s team—which featured four players from this year’s Haybalers squad—defeated Batbusters Gomes Clark 5-4 in the 18U Platinum B championship game on July 30 in Huntington Beach.
It was a storybook ending, as the Storm won in walk-off fashion on a Noellah Ramos single that scored Balers junior Alyssa Ito with two out in the bottom of the seventh inning.
As Ito crossed home plate, several of her teammates were already out of the dugout running onto the field in jubilation.
“The girls showed a lot of raw emotion and excitement,” said Storm coach Curtis Heen, who is a longtime Hollister resident. “And for the coaching staff, it was a bit surreal.”
The four players off this year’s San Benito High team that played for the Storm include Ito, Brittnee Rossi, Makayla Johnson and Chloe Cortez. Rossi, an incoming freshman player at the University of Hawaii, had a standout summer season and PGF tournament.
“Brittnee throughout the whole year was a steady contributor,” Heen said. “Some seniors who are going on to college either decide to take the summer off or take off tournaments, but she didn’t miss one tournament.”
The Storm went 6-1 in the tournament, with Rossi hitting .407 and around .400 for the entire season.
“The success she had in high school she continued to the club travel ball season,” Heen said.
Heen’s daughter, Callee, the former Balers standout who is entering her sophomore season at the University of Hawaii, served as an assistant coach this season. Rossi said this was a perfect way to end things before she goes on to play at the college level.
“It was a great way to go out playing with these girls,” she said. “I’m really proud of them for stepping up against some great teams.”
Curtis Heen said Cortez was a solid starter for most of the season, and Johnson played well whenever she got an opportunity for this powerhouse squad. Even though Heen said last year’s Storm team had more talent, this year’s squad blended together in beautiful harmony.
“This year’s team had great chemistry, and they all came together and played for each other,” he said. “It was pretty gratifying to see that maturation from the team.”
In the PGF National Championship title game, Salinas entered the bottom of the seventh inning with the score at 4-4. Ito reached on an error with one out before advancing to second on a Rossi groundout. Ramos delivered the game-winning hit, allowing Ito to score.
Ito is the consummate pro’s pro, a heady player who delivers in the clutch and seemingly makes all the right decisions. Rossi carries those attributes as well, something that will come in handy when she arrives in Hawaii. Rossi first dreamed of playing college softball when she was 8 years old, and through the years she worked hard to become one of the top leadoff hitters in the Central Coast Section.
“It took me a while to really believe I could play in college,” she said. “Growing up I saw the college players on TV, and I was really amazed to see how good they were. I didn’t think I could get to that level.”
The recruiting process was a bit nerve-wracking, as Rossi had no offers until University of Hawaii coach Bob Coolen contacted her a couple of months before the start of her senior season.
“It was kind of getting to the end of the line for me to sign with anyone,” she said. “When he called, I was really scared and excited at the same time.”
Armed with speed and a knack for getting on base, Rossi could make a similar impact at the college level as she did at the competitive club level.