Balers see positives through injuries

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San Benito's Desirae Canela has been a bright spot in an otherwise tough season for the Balers, who suffered through an injury-riddled year.

A year after advancing to the Central Coast Section Division I tournament championship game, the San Benito High girls’ basketball team was beset by a slew of injuries that prevented it from having any shot of making a repeat postseason run.
The Haybalers (4-19 overall, 2-9 MBL Gabilan), who finished up their season on Thursday against North Salinas — the result wasn’t available when this edition went to press — lost their best player, junior Denise Martinez, before the season even started, then saw their second best player in point guard Anjelica Collins go down with a season-ending injury in the first quarter of the season-opener against Piedmont Hills.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, senior guard-forward Cassandra Barraza recently missed four games after suffering a strained MCL in her left knee.
“In terms of the severity of the injuries we’ve had, I haven’t been a part of anything like this at the freshmen, junior varsity or varsity level,” Balers coach Mitch Burley said. “It was tough from a winning and losing standpoint, but the benefit that came out of all this is that several players got a lot more playing time than they normally would have because of the injuries.”
One of the team’s best moments came in a 44-41 win over Notre Dame-Salinas on Feb. 13, the Balers’ Senior Night. Barraza, who had missed the team’s previous four games due to injury, showed up in her uniform.
“I thought she was just dressed for Senior Night, but she had been cleared to play and was ready to go,” Burley said. “Then she goes out and scores 15 points, and we won. That was a nice moment.”
Burley said he had a number of players who played inspired basketball this year, including senior center Jalyn Brooks, senior shooting guard Desirae Canela, sophomore post Callee Heen, junior guard-forward Alyssa Newman, and junior forward Adriana Ibarra.
Brooks didn’t play much last year, but started every game this season, as did Canela, who proved to be a potent outside shooter.
“Jalyn’s attitude and character stands out,” Burley said. “It’s great she stuck with it because she did some good things this season. And Desirae had some really big games, including 17 points against Salinas.”
Burley sees plenty of promise for next season, as Collins, Newman, Martinez, Heen, and Ibarra should all be returning. Collins is a dynamite point guard, capable of breaking down defenses and elevating the level of her teammates’ play.
Heen is only going to improve as her game continues to evolve, and Newman is a ferocious rebounder and defender. Then you have Ibarra, who is an excellent 3-point shooter.
Along with a solid nucleus coming back, San Benito should be buoyed by at least one or two newcomers off the freshmen or junior varsity teams, both of which had excellent seasons.
“We have quite a bit coming back next year, so we should be good if we can stay healthy,” Burley said.
But as the Balers found out this season, being healthy is not always guaranteed.

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