Amber Rodriguez entered the season without a home run to her credit. Despite being a proficient hitter, the San Benito High senior catcher could never be mistaken for someone who could hit the long ball on a moment’s notice. Until now. Rodriguez, a Weber State-signee, has seven home runs this season, or seven more than she had in her previous two years combined (she transferred into San Benito High at the start of her sophomore year).
“She’s attacking the ball if it’s anywhere near the (strike) zone,” Haybalers coach Andrew Barragan said. “If you look at all of her home runs, most of the balls pitched to her have been up in the zone. But she’s the best high fastball pitch, out of the zone hitter I’ve ever seen. She’s hitting home runs from balls up and out of the zone because they’re trying to get her to pop up. But her hands are so fast it kind of reminds me of Callee Heen (the former San Benito standout who is now starring at Hawaii) and how she hit that high fastball. Amber has got the quickest hands from a right-handed batter I’ve seen in a long time. She is good at reading and waiting for that mistake pitch.”
The Balers entered Thursday’s regular-season finale at 15-10 overall and 6-5 in Pacific Coast League Gabilan Division play. Winning a league title is no longer a possibility. However, a strong showing against Gilroy on Thursday would give Barragan peace of mind as he attends the Central Coast Section seeding meeting on Sunday.
Rodriguez has been nothing short of outstanding this season, as she entered the week leading the team in average (.458), hits (33), RBIs (22), doubles (12), slugging (.875) and OPS (1.356). Her seven home runs accounts for exactly half of the team’s total of 14 this season. While Rodriguez has started every game this season, the same can’t be said of junior Julia Woeste, who suffered a broken right forearm in the first game of the season after getting hit by a pitch.
Woeste worked hard and returned to game action against Salinas High on April 15. Woeste, who was projected to be the team’s top pitcher at the start of the season, knows it’s only a matter of time before she gets back to the form prior to the injury.
“It’s all in my mind,” she said. “I would say I just need to get my confidence back. I can do everything perfectly fine, and I really want to get better at hitting and pitch selection.”
Woeste utilizes a drop ball that she throws around the same velocity as her fastball; however, it sinks as it approaches home plate, inducing numerous groundouts. It’s been a long road back for Woeste, who was determined to return well before the season ended. Woeste reached that mark and has a goal to continually improve in every practice and game.
One thing is for certain: Whenever Woeste is in the circle, she’s throwing to one of the best catchers in the section. Barragan was effusive in his praise for Rodriguez, noting her ability to call pitches, make adjustments on the fly and align her teammates for any kind of situation.
“Amber’s leadership on the field is very well present,” Barragan said. “She’s very soft-spoken and quiet, but her leadership is done on the field and it’s great. She’s the QB out there and she’ll move girls around, but more impressive than that is now I’ll take some innings off of calling pitches because I know Amber truly understands how to call a game. She positions the defense, calls the game and so far she hasn’t let me down.”
Rodriguez’s understanding of the game is so deep that she’ll see things that Barragan might miss on occasion since she’s right there in the box.
“She’s challenged me this year calling pitches,” Barragan said. “I’ll give a sign and she’ll tilt her head saying, ‘Hey, are you sure?’ And I’m like maybe not, and I’ll point at her and tell her to go with her call because she’s obviously seeing something in the batter I’m not. So far she’s proving me right in the way she calls pitches. It’s impressive.”
Barragan added Rodriguez has become adept at taking advantage when the pitcher misses her spot.
“She makes them pay for it,” Barragan said. “We’re looking for a league title, and if not we’ll do our best for a CCS title. We have the team to do it, and come playoff time we’ll be full force and ready to go.”