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Balers on mission to win CCS title

Balers junior Julia Woeste makes an impact both offensively and in the circle. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Every time the San Benito High players open up the storage equipment container before practice starts, they see a blown-up picture of the Gilroy High softball team celebrating a Central Coast Section playoff championship, with the Mustang players holding up a single finger to represent that they—and not the Haybalers—were No. 1 in the area a year ago. San Benito fell to Gilroy 4-3 in the Division I championship game. Balers coach Andrew Barragan posted the pictures just to add a little spice to the start of the season.

“It’s a reminder that, ‘Hey, we have to finish this out,”” said Barragan, who is entering his fourth season as the coach. “It hurts because San Benito-Hollister softball should be the last ones standing at the end with the program we have and historical run (former coach) Scott Smith had. We’re expected to be there, and when you lose a championship game nowadays at Hollister, it’s tough to think about.”

Barragan tried not to dwell on the loss too much; however, it was hard for him not to think about in this day of social media.

“Every opportunity I had to think about that game, I do,” he said. “You look at the (Gilroy) Dispatch and Twitter and Facebook and Instagram, they all got their CCS championship rings and the city had a parade for them (and other teams that won a CCS title). Any time you see that, you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t think about stuff like that.”

If the Balers are to get back to the mountain top—they last won a section title in 2016—they’ll need the 1-2 pitching punch of juniors Julia Woeste and Drew Barragan to come through. Barragan said he was confident the two pitchers would do just that. Woeste has improved every season and has the potential for a MVP-type season, Barragan said. Woeste is projected to hit fourth or fifth in the lineup, and her bat packs a punch.

Drew Barragan is the coach’s daughter and possesses tremendous off-speed pitches. Drew played at Monte Vista Christian in her freshman year and sat out last season before transferring into San Benito High. Drew has tremendous off-speed stuff and Woeste has greater velocity, something Barragan expects to make for a great combination.

“We don’t have the best pitcher in CCS, but I can guarantee it’s going to be hard to come up with a better 1-2 punch in CCS,” Andrew said. “Julia is a smarter pitcher now, and I can also count on her and Drew to hit. Drew has pinpoint accuracy, and that is a great strength.”

The Balers have three Division I signees—Dominique Monteon (North Carolina), Amber Rodriguez (Weber State) and Alyssa Ito (UC Davis)—who plan to have their best seasons yet. Rodriguez plays catcher and has a cannon for an arm that makes baserunners think twice about stealing.

Monteon plays third base and possesses one of the most potent bats in the section, and Ito mans the shortstop position about as well as anyone in the CCS. Sophomore Kaiya Dickens, who had a solid freshman season, plays first base and second base and seemingly has all of the tools to one day play in college.

“We threw Kaiya into the fire last year and she responded very well,” Barragan said. “She had a good year of high-caliber travel ball, so she’s that much better this year.”

Gianna Perez and Seryna Esparza are two freshmen infielders who Barragan said has plenty of powerful bats.

“The hit the (crap) out of the ball,” he said.

Anther freshmen, Angelic Diaz, will contend for starting spots in the outfield. The freshmen class—in all likelihood two will start and possibly more—are a big reason why Barragan said this is the most talented team he’s had in his four years as coach. Diaz brings tremendous speed to the team, which excites Barragan. In Barragan’s first season as the coach, the team had 72 stolen bases. Last year, that number dropped into the 20s.

Other key returnees include a pair of utility players in senior Ariel Mendez and sophomore Aniesa Osorio. Mendez, like most or all of her teammates, plays for a high-level travel ball program.

“Ariel is a great gap to gap hitter with a great arm in the outfield,” Barragan said. “She can hit it to any part of the park, and just as important she’ll get some clutch hits for us for sure.”

Osorio plays second base and is one of those sparkplug players who has a diverse skill set and can come through in a variety of ways.

“I can put Aniesa at any position except pitcher, catcher and first base,” Barragan said. “She’s got good speed, good hands and can lay it down (a bunt) when we need her to.”

In finishing 17-14 last year, the Balers suffered double-digit losses for the first time in nearly two decades. Barragan doesn’t expect that to happen again this season. Whereas last year’s team didn’t have much depth, the 2019 squad has superior depth.

“If I had to take the top 12 or 14 players, they can battle each other the whole time in practice,” Barragan said. “One through 14 is solid.”