The San Benito High softball team entered Tuesday’s home game against Alvarez at 0-4, having been outscored by a combined margin of 33-15. Granted, the Haybalers have faced some powerhouse programs—Clovis is ranked 26th nationally and Huntington Beach 30th—but for a tradition-rich program like San Benito, losing its first four games constitutes something out of the ordinary.
Not to worry, says third-year Balers coach Andrew Barragan and catcher Amber Rodriguez.
“We’ll be stronger once we get in league,” said Rodriguez, who has made a verbal commitment to play at Weber State University. “We just need to have more faith in each other, and we’ll be fine.”
Said Barragan: “I have confidence that the wins will come and we’ll get to where we need to be.”
Barragan should feel that way. Last season, San Benito had a somewhat similar start to the season before it ran off 18 consecutive wins en route to another Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division championship. There’s no reason to think this season will shake out any different.
The Balers return standout juniors Rodriguez and North Carolina-commit second baseman Dominique Monteon. Both players are getting better each season, and the duo lead by example. Along with seniors Noel Chavarria and Chloe Cortez, the four must be as unified as ever if the team plans on making it back to the CCS playoff championship game.
Cortez, a right fielder, bats leadoff. Monteon hits second and Chavarria, a left fielder, hits third. Rodriguez hits cleanup and Maddie Greco—Santa Teresa High transfer and a Cal State East Bay University commit—plays center field and first base and hits fifth.
Freshman third baseman Kaia Dickens hits sixth, sophomore Julia Woeste is in the seventh spot, junior shortstop Alyssa Ito is in the No. 8 spot and junior outfielder Ariel Mendez in the nine spot. In the first couple of games, Barragan said Monteon and Rodriguez were carrying the load offensively.
“We were hoping Chavarria and Cortez would start clicking, and sure enough in the last game (9-8, 9-inning loss to Concord last Saturday) they did,” Barragan said. “Their bats started to wake up, and that’s what we needed from them.”
Chavarria went 3 for 4 with two doubles, and Cortez finished 2 for 4 with a double.
Woeste also had a terrific performance against Concord, going 3 for 4, including hitting two balls that went off the wall. Woeste also pitches whenever starter Amanda Moisa needs relief. Dickens has displayed poise and fielding acumen at third base, Ito has been steady as usual and Mendez tracks the ball well, has a good arm and is strong defensively.
Then there’s Rodriguez, who has a rifle for an arm behind the dish and is terrific defensively. With a sweet swing and improved strength and power, Rodriguez has the potential to dominate a game single-handedly. Rodriguez, who also plays for the travel program California Suncats, credits coach Jenny Barboa for helping her continually develop as a catcher.
“She helps me with hitting a lot and as a catcher,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez is not only trying to lead the Balers to another league and section title, she’s honing her game for the college as well.
“I’m trying to get ready for college because it’s right around the corner,” she said. “I’m just trying to prepare myself by getting stronger and faster. They expect a lot at Weber State from freshmen, so I’m trying to prepare for that level of intensity.”
Speaking of intensity, that is a perfect way to describe San Benito’s schedule. It’s no accident the Balers have one of the toughest and brutal non-league schedules around.
“We could stick around here and play the Circle of Champions (tournament),” Barragan said. “But compared to playing (in the Clovis Leadoff Classic and the Spring Jamboree in Las Vegas in April), that is not going to help us get better or help us win league and another CCS title.”
Barragan makes a tough non-league schedule so once the team enters league play, it will have seen the best of the best. And the Balers have certainly seen some of the premier players in the state, as they’ve faced a handful of Division I-bound pitchers. Barragan said Huntington Beach has nine—count ‘em, nine—players committed to a Division I program.
“We knew what we were getting into when I put this national schedule together,” he said. “Some of our girls are pressing a lot and have been really tense at the plate. The biggest fear is you don’t want the girls to lose confidence, but most of them play travel ball and are really competitive. I’m hoping my master plan will work, and the girls are really buying into it and not getting frustrated or down on themselves.”
Rodriguez certainly has bought into playing tough teams; after all, she and some of her teammates play tremendous competition on their respective travel ball teams.
“We care for each other as players, and we’ll have to care for each other even more to reach our goals,” Rodriguez said.