Balers plan on going the distance

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Drew Barragan, Kaiya Dickens and Julia Woeste are the captains of the San Benito High softball team. Photo by Robert Eliason.

At least once every couple of weeks, someone on campus asks Andrew Barragan why the San Benito High softball team hasn’t won a Central Coast Section playoff championship since 2016. When you’re the coach of a tradition-rich program that has won 10 section titles—including one under your watch—expectations are sky high and Barragan knows that better than anyone.

“Somebody made a comment the other day inside the gym and said, ‘Hey, there was a CCS title in 2016. But what happened in ’17, ’18 and ’19?'” Barragan said. “There is such a rich tradition here, and we would like to hang up another banner. I’m feeling the heat for sure.”

Barragan was half-joking with the last statement, but make no mistake: the Balers expect to be in a CCS championship game come May.

“This team is definitely stronger than last year’s team,” said Drew Barragan, the team’s senior ace who also led the team in hitting last year with a robust .485 batting average. “We better go farther than we did last year, and I think we will. We have a lot of freshmen who are really freaking fast, and there is a lot of strength and power on this team.”

No kidding. In addition to the hitting exploits of Barragan and fellow senior Julia Woeste, the team has three sophomores—Gianna Perez, Shanelle Cavazos and Seryna Esparza—who all have the ability to be gap-to-gap hitters. Perez, in particular, has tremendous power. Andrew Barragan said he expects the team to hit a lot of doubles this season, as the outfield fence at the new home field is 210 feet away compared to the traditional high school field that measures 200 feet from home plate to the outfield fence. In other words, there will be plenty of space for the hitters to spray balls all over the field.

“There will be a lot of doubles, maybe a doubles parade,” Barragan said. “We have some true gap-to-gap hitters. Gianna by far has the most power on the team, Shelley is a very strong hitter and Seryna will get a lot of extra-base hits.”

Angelic Diaz, a sophomore center fielder and shortstop, has made strides to improve her hitting from last season. Barragan has seen Diaz mature in every facet of the game.

“Last year at the dish she was a bit overwhelmed as a freshman at the varsity level,” he said. “But with the travel ball season, you could tell she’s been working hard on her hitting. She works the middle-right and will be something special this year. She runs like a gazelle and her bat has come a long way.”

The four sophomores are a big reason why Drew Barragan has high hopes the team can win a CCS title this season.

“Last year I was pretty confused as to why my dad decided to bring so many freshmen on the team,” she said. “But when I went out there (recently), the freshmen who are now sophomores are 10 times stronger this year. So now it’s all kind of clicking to why he did that. We have a stronger team this year, and I’m really excited because everyone is swinging a hot bat.”

Especially Barragan, who had two home runs in two playoff games last season. Barragan led the team in several offensive categories while also being the ace in the circle. This year should be more of the same, though the right-hander likely won’t have to pitch as many innings with Woeste back and 100 percent healthy. Woeste suffered a broken arm early in the 2019 season, and even though she returned in the stretch run, Andrew Barragan said there wasn’t enough time for her to “be the Julia we know.” This year should be a different story.

“I’m excited to watch Julia play,” he said. “She has verbaled (to play at) Quinnipiac (University) in Connecticut, and that kind of gave her a little boost. I’m looking to her to be more of a senior leader. I know she’ll help us in the circle a lot, but I’m really looking for her to do big things at the dish. With a healthy Julia, I guarantee there is no better duo in the CCS then Drew and Julia when it comes to a pitching and hitting combination perspective.”

After carrying five freshmen on the roster last year, the Balers have three freshmen—Ariana Rivera, Lindsey Platero and Laila Rueda—on the roster this season. Rueda has “Britt Rossi type speed,” Andrew Barragan said, referring to the former San Benito standout who is now playing at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, meaning Rueda will wreak havoc on the basepaths and has the potential to advance an extra base on a moment’s notice. Platero also has tremendous speed, while Rivera possesses solid all-around skills.

Junior shortstop Kaiya Dickens will also be a force, as will Aniesa Osorio, who plays every position except pitcher and catcher.

“Aniesa looks great,” Andrew Barragan said. “She knows the system, what to expect and is starting to hit the ball good.”

Junior Sephra Loza will prove valuable, as she has the ability to pitch and give a break to Barragan and Woeste when needed. Roughly one-fourth of the team plays for the Cal A’s travel ball team that is coached by Barragan and Curtis Heen, who is a new addition to the coaching staff. Barragan raved about the addition of Heen, who has over two decades of experience coaching players and teams at various levels of the game.

“Curtis is more of a true assistant head coach if you will,” Barragan said. “He is really good for the mental part of the game and really makes the girls think what they’re doing, why they’re doing it and how they’re doing it. He makes these girls ask questions and obviously is very knowledgeable about the game.”

Drew Barragan also had praise for Heen and said, “Curtis will be there to give advice when we need it, or when dad is a little frustrated.” Andrew predicts Drew will have a breakout season from the standpoint of being downright dominant in the circle. Barragan has gained four mph on her fastball from last year, which makes her change-up a devastating pitch. Drew made strength-training a priority in the off-season, and it’s paid off.

“I worked out more this past year,” she said. “He (trainer Jose Bueno) is a big part of why I got stronger. He helped me with squatting and good form.”

Barragan gained a lot of confidence after doing well in the ultra-competitive travel ball season with the Cal A’s. Barragan has all the physical tools, but she knows that is only half the equation.

“I know I have to be mentally tough and stronger,” she said. “Offensively, I want to start off the season like how I ended last year. I started hitting home runs, and I hope I can do that in the beginning this time. I also hope to take us further in CCS with my pitching.”

Said Andrew Barragan: “This year we have the horses to take us to the finish. This is probably the most talented team I’ve had here, and I’d be very disappointed if we don’t make it to the championship game. This is the year.”