Cortez, Balers aim for CCS title

Balers senior Chloe Cortez has been an impact player since her sophomore year.

If this is the final hurrah for Chloe Cortez playing softball, it’s been a great ride. The San Benito High senior right fielder enters her final Central Coast Section playoff tournament knowing she might never play competitive softball again. Cortez plans on focusing on her academics at Cal State University-San Marcos in the fall.

“I’ve been playing softball since I was big enough to hold a bat, so it’s kind of nerve-wracking and stressful to think this is it for me,” she said. “It’s coming to a quick end actually, and I’m just trying to enjoy it while I can.”

The No. 15 seed Haybalers (14-13) open the CCS Division I playoffs against No. 2 Santa Clara (18-7) on Wednesday. If the Balers are to make a deep title run, Cortez will probably be one of the key players.

“Chloe has been our MVP of the second half of the season,” Balers coach Andrew Barragan said. “She figured some things out in terms of being a little more patient at the plate, which gives her a better pitch to hit. We talk about staying aggressive at the plate, but at the same time being selective.”

It’s been an atypical season for San Benito, which opened the season with five consecutive losses. There was also a stretch in which the Balers won seven straight contests and seemingly had it all figured out. However, a 12-1 blowout loss to Watsonville—the two squads finished with identical 9-3 league records to share the Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division championship—on May 3 revealed San Benito can be as good as any team on its best day and downright mediocre on its average day.

So which San Benito team will stand up in the postseason? Cortez hopes it’s the squad that reeled seven straight in the middle of the league season, which included a nail-biting 2-1 win over Watsonville on April 10. If that San Benito team shows up, it has the ability to win a Division I title. Cortez knows what another section championship would mean to the program.

“Winning CCS two years ago and also freshman year, I was more like a deer in the headlights,” she said. “I didn’t know how big CCS was and didn’t understand the magnitude of it until months later when you’re receiving congratulations at the start of the following travel ball season.”

Cortez entered the week hitting .464 and among the team leaders in several offensive categories, including at-bats, runs scored, hits, doubles, RBIs, on-base percentage, slugging and OPS. Cortez has been dynamite, along with Amber Rodriguez, Dominique Monteon and Maddie Greco, the Santa Teresa-transfer who has a team-best four home runs.

Cortez has gone from being a role player to one of the team’s leaders. Two years ago, Cortez looked up to former Balers standouts Suzy Brookshire and Callee Heen, who are now playing at Sacramento State and Hawaii-Manoa, respectively. As one of the senior starters, Cortez knows she must set a great example for the younger players to follow.

“I always have that in mind because we have a lot of freshmen and younger girls on the team,” Cortez said. “I try to make sure to check in with them and give them a lot of positive encouragement and reinforcement.”

When asked for her individual season highlight, Cortez pointed to getting on base and making solid contact against Watsonville High ace Jessica Rodriguez, who is a Division I-bound pitcher.

“That was the first time when I felt like my hitting really clicked, especially because it came against a really good pitcher,” she said. “I know (Rodriguez), and she’s really good and talented.”

Last Thursday, Cortez took an Advanced Placement test for Environmental Science. If she passes the test, she will earn college credit, meaning she gets to take one less class in her general education requirements during her freshman and sophomore year. On the field, Cortez has the same goal every season.

“My only goal before any season is to always come out, do my best and have fun,” she said. “As long as I do that, I can go to bed happy at night. And so far, I’ve been doing that.”

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