The Balers’ Drew comes through

Drew Barragan filled a void when standout pitcher Julia Woeste went down with an injury at the start of the season. Photo by Robert Eliason.

When Julia Woeste suffered a broken wrist at the start of the season, the San Benito High softball team faced a dire prospect: It was suddenly without its top pitcher. In the world of competitive softball, a team without a solid pitcher is as good as finished. Fortunately for the Haybalers, they had a talented newcomer waiting in the wings in junior Drew Barragan, the daughter of Balers coach Andrew Barragan.

“We’d be in big trouble without her,” said Andrew, whose statement was a more of a matter of fact that opinion. “Drew has really taken the bull by the horns and been successful so far.”

Barragan has come on particularly strong in the last couple of weeks, pitching back-to-back shutouts against Watsonville and Santa Catalina, the latter result coming on April 2. San Benito High entered the week at 9-3 overall and 3-2 in the Pacific Coast League’s Gabilan Division. Both of the Haybalers’ losses have come by one run, a 7-6 decision to Salinas and a 4-3 defeat to Notre Dame-Salinas.

Barragan didn’t have her best outing against the Spirits; however, the talented right-hander has generally found her rhythm and feels comfortable and confident going forward.

“I’m definitely doing way better than I thought I would (before the season started),” she said. “I definitely have a comfort level being at a new school and playing on a new team. At first, I was a little shaky when I went out to pitch, but as I’ve gotten to bond with the girls and spend time together as a team, that has made me feel better. I know if someone does hit the ball, there is someone to back me up.”

Barragan who attended her first two years of high school at Monte Vista Christian, has developed a rapport with Balers catcher Amber Rodriguez, who plays excellent defense and has a rifle for an arm which makes baserunners think twice about trying to steal a base.

“No one notices when I get kind of down on myself or if I miss a pitch call, but I know Amber sees that,” Barragan said. “She’ll encourage me and tell me that ‘You’re good and you’re the best one out here now.’ That pumps me up and helps me stay in it.”

Barragan utilizes a solid fastball with her best pitch, an off-speed changeup, which is approximately 8 to 10 mph slower than her fastball. Barragan holds her off-speed pitch by tucking her middle and index fingers, almost in a way someone throws a knuckleball, Andrew said.

“It’s a nasty pitch,” Andrew said. “She’s had that pitch since she was 12 and has really come along nicely with it. It takes a toll on her fingers, though.”

When Drew keeps her best pitch down in the zone, hitters get so far out in front on their front foot that Andrew said, “it’s even comical sometimes, it’s that good.” Even though Drew doesn’t have the velocity of some of the top pitchers in the Central Coast Section, when she locates her pitches, they’re hard to hit. That’s because Barragan puts tremendous spin on the ball, resulting in the batter unable to make solid contact more often than not.

Barragan entered this week’s play with a 6-2 record, having pitched 51 2/3 innings with 47 strikeouts. Barragan has allowed 56 hits and walked 16 in that span, numbers she would like to decrease. However, despite the amount of baserunners that have gotten on in her starts, Barragan has done well limiting the damage.

A perfect example of that came in San Benito’s 2-0 win over Santa Catalina, which put runners on second and third base with one out and had the potential go-ahead run at the plate in the top of the seventh inning. That’s when second baseman Dominique Monteon acrobatically snagged a liner for the second out of the inning.

“When that ball was hit and I saw Dom catch it, I thought to myself, ‘Thank God,’” Barragan said. “I knew she’d have it because Dom is a great second baseman, but it takes a really good player to make a play like that.”

Moments later, Barragan induced a fly out to end the game. When runners get on base, Barragan makes sure to relax.

“I’m not really the type to get that nervous,” she said. “When I’m in those kind of situations I just try to get more relaxed than I already am, but at the same time, I still have a good amount of intensity. I take a step back off the mound, start breathing and picture me and the catcher. It’s just me and her and I’m pitching like I know how to pitch. If there is too much in your head, you’re going to make a bunch of mental mistakes.”

Both coach and daughter expressed pleasant surprise with Drew’s offensive production. Among the regulars in the starting lineup, Barragan has team-high marks in batting average (.514), hits (19), on-base percentage (.561), while ranking second in OPS (1.183) and doubles (four).

“I feel it’s a big accomplishment,” she said. “I went into it (the season) thinking I would just be a pitcher, but when he put me up to bat and I started hitting, I thought to myself, ‘OK, this might work out, too.’”

Andrew said the focus Drew put on pitching could’ve taken away from her hitting, but that has not been the case so far this season.

“Drew has always been a good hitter, but did I know at this point in time that she would lead the team in hitting and hits? Absolutely not,” he said. “What that tells me is she’s focused and determined to help get this team to another CCS title game.”

The Balers saw exactly where they stood Wednesday when they played defending CCS Division I champion Gilroy (this article was completed before the start of the game). The dynamics of a parent coaching his or her child is pretty commonplace in youth leagues and high schools in America. While it makes for quality time for the parent and child, it also poses challenges. Like most coaches, Andrew knows he has to be harder on Drew than any other player on the team so there won’t be a hint of whispers of favoritism going around. Drew knows that, too.

“Obviously, he’s going to be the hardest on me, and I know that,” she said. “That is how it is with dads when they’re coaching their daughters. I can be pitching the greatest game of all time, and he’ll have something to say. But I know deep down inside he knows I’m doing great (if I’m pitching well that day).”

Said Andrew: “As a coach and father, you want to make it known you’re not playing any type of favorite to your own child. I’m proud of her and happy she’s over here. I didn’t know how she would adapt over here, but she’s adapted just fine. To me, she’s always been a Baler because she’s always watched the Baler games even when she was in the seventh and eighth grade.”

The thousands of hours the two have spent together on the softball field have built a lifelong of memories, with more to come.

“I have many great memories, even when he yells at me and tells me to pick it up,” Drew said. “They’ll be great stories to tell.”

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