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Esparza, San Benito High softball team win in Vegas

San Benito High third baseman Seryna Esparza has been a hitting machine this season. Entering this week's play, Esparza is batting .532 with six home runs, nine doubles and 29 RBI. File photo.

After a solid junior season that ended with the San Benito High softball team hoisting the Central Coast Section championship trophy, Seryna Esparza entered the off-season with a renewed purpose and focus. 

“Coming into senior year, I knew that came with a responsibility,” she said. “So I did some training to get stronger with my hitting, a lot of weighted workouts and explosive drills. It’s been noticeable in my play, and I can definitely feel the difference on the field.”

The results bear that out, as Esparza enters the week with a robust .532 average, six home runs, nine doubles and 29 RBI. Four home runs came over a torrid five-game stretch in which San Benito went a perfect 5-0 to win the Las Vegas Spring Jamboree Tournament April 14-16. 

“Her home runs were smashed,” Balers coach Andrew Barragan said. “There was one ball I didn’t see because it landed in a creek behind the fence. She’s been our MVP so far.”

For the tournament, the senior third baseman hit .778 (14-for-18), with nine runs scored and 13 RBI. Other Balers had notable performances, including Madeline Bermudez, Mia Philips and Giana Perez. 

Bermudez, a sophomore left fielder, batted .688 (11-for-16) with 10 runs scored, six doubles and five RBI. For her efforts, Bermudez earned honorable mention recognition for the National Player of the Week award by extrainningsoftball.com. 

Philips, a sophomore shortstop, hit .647 with six doubles and five RBI, while Perez, a Sonoma State-signee, batted .579 with 11 hits, four of which were home runs, to go along with 11 RBI. 

“Seryna and Giana both hitting four homes apiece was just ridiculous,” Barragan said. 

Ace Sophia Mariottini was the pitcher on record for all five games, striking out 18 over 25 innings and a 3.64 ERA. She’s proven to be as durable as ever. Barragan continues to be amazed by Philips’ stellar defensive play. 

“I don’t think Mia has got but one error all year,” he said. “She plays second base on her travel ball team, but she’s had a bunch of putouts at short for us. She is so smooth and I’ve never seen anybody with a smoother glove, the way she transfers the ball and gets rid of it is just so fast it’s amazing.”

Barragan also praised the defense of right fielder Laila Rueda, who produced two inning-ending catches that prevented runs from scoring and helped preserve a couple of victories. 

“The way Laila gets back on the ball, she’s got (former Balers standout) Brit Rossi type speed in the outfield,” Barragan said.  

After a disappointing 11-1 loss to Notre Dame-Salinas on April 7, the Balers routed Gilroy before its run in Vegas. That improved their record to 14-5 entering this week’s play. 

Esparza has maintained a high level of play all season, a byproduct of working diligently in the off-season. Knowing she didn’t need an overhaul of her lefty swing, Esparza focused on refinement. 

“It was more like fine-tuning little things,” she said. “I worked out when I was tired just knowing I had to bring my best stuff this year.”

Esparza also has a solid mental approach before each at-bat. Pitchers tend to work the outside part of the plate against Esparza, who has made the proper adjustments. 

“I know I don’t get a lot of inside pitches, so I’ve been focusing a lot on hitting the outside pitch,” she said. “I’m looking for certain pitches in certain situations and realizing what the pitcher is throwing, paying attention to the other batters and having a plan before I go to the plate. But I’m keeping it simple at the same time and not trying to overthink anything.”

San Benito has had some rough losses to top-tier teams this season, but Esparza said those defeats will only make the team stronger as it prepares for the stretch run. 

“I think we are in a better spot after those losses and using them to fuel our fire,” she said. “It gives us more motivation, especially because those games didn’t go the way we wanted them to. We use that as motivation because we’re definitely a better squad now than when we played those games earlier in the year.”

Balers coach Andrew Barragan said Seryna Esparza has been the team’s MVP so far this season. File photo.

Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at elee@weeklys.com