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San Benito High softball team rolling into playoff form

Balers ace Sophia Mariottini delivers a pitch in a 6-3 win over Gilroy on Tuesday. Photo by Robert Eliason.

The San Benito and Gilroy softball teams both finished with seven hits apiece in their May 11 contest. The difference was the Haybalers committed just one error, while the Mustangs had five that led to five unearned runs. 

Near flawless defense and another strong pitching performance from Sophia Mariottini led the host Balers to a 6-3 win. San Benito improved to 8-4, while Gilroy dropped to 2-7. Pounding the inside part of the strike zone with regularity, Mariottini was terrific again in the circle, displaying a maturity to her game beyond her years. 

“She’s a rookie pitching her first year on the varsity since we basically didn’t have a season last year,” Haybalers coach Andrew Barragan said. “But she can pound the zone inside at will. In high school, it’s hard to find a pitcher that is able to pound the inside part of the plate consistently. It’s always middle away. But she was able to jam them, and that was our game plan. We knew we had to tie up their hands, and that’s what we did.”

The Mustangs’ Sabrina Lopez started and went 3 ⅔ innings before Alysa Gutierrez went the final 2 ⅓ innings. Even though a couple of San Benito batters hit some absolute lasers, the two pitched well and kept their team in the game. Gilroy coach Dusty Lester said his pitchers delivered the goods. 

“They give up one earned run, and that should be enough to win the game,” Lester said. “We’ve been having errors the whole season, so we have to figure out a way to overcome that.”

San Benito scored two runs in the bottom of the first inning, highlighted by back-to-back singles from Seryna Esparza and Giana Perez. The Balers added three more in the fourth, as Madeline Bermudez hit an RBI double and Mariottini helped her own cause with a run-scoring single. That was followed by an RBI triple from Esparza, who stroked a rocket down the left-field line. 

Gilroy took a while to get going, scoring three runs in its final two innings up to bat. In the sixth, Malia Mah drew a leadoff walk and came home when Lopez smoked a double down the right-field line. One out and a wild pitch later, Savannah Wilson slapped a run-scoring single to center field to cut the Mustangs’ deficit to 5-2. 

However, the Balers answered with an extra insurance run in the bottom half of the frame as Mariottini came through with her second run-scoring single of the game. Freshman Dominique Oliveira legged out an infield single to start the run-scoring sequence. Lopez and Xochitl Garcia led Gilroy with two hits each. The Mustangs produced four of their seven hits in the final two innings.

“I’m proud of them for fighting back at the end to give us a shot to do something,” Lester said. “We just had the errors, and even though they’re physical errors, they’re caused by mental mistakes. I don’t get mad at the girls for physical errors; it’s the mental things that bother me. Dropping the ball, not getting in front of it, those are all mental/physical errors.”

Gilroy’s 2-7 record isn’t as poor as one might believe when one looks at the opponents who dealt the Mustangs their losses. The list includes St. Francis-Mountain View (twice), Mitty (twice), Valley Christian, Branham and now San Benito. The Balers have also played a tough schedule, and Barragan said it would be ideal if the lineup started to hit like he thought it would before the season started. 

“I think our hitters are all pressing too much right now,” he said. “They feel they’re under pressure because this team is young and they’re all competing for a spot, and I think that affects them at the plate. I have to assure them they’re all going to get opportunities.”

That much was evident against Gilroy as Barragan used virtually his entire roster. Most if not all the players on the roster either got an at-bat, time in the field or were utilized as a pinch runner. Barragan said the team is jockeying for a high seed in the Central Coast Section playoffs, which start on June 7. 

He acknowledged that if the bats get hot, the defense stays sound and Mariottini elevates her game, a run to the championship game isn’t out of the question. 

“Come CCS playoff time, I think her changeup will be fine-tuned,” Barragan said. “That will be a major weapon for her. Her stamina is also building, so things are looking good.”

Freshman center fielder Isabella Buzzetta made a terrific play when she snagged a quick sinking liner off the bat of Gutierrez in the top of the fourth, which eventually led to a double play. 

First baseman Seryna Esparza prepares to make a putout in Tuesday’s game against Gilroy. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Freshman Isabella Buzzetta makes contact in the Balers’ 6-3 victory over Gilroy. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Freshman Madeline Bermudez swings at a pitch in Tuesday’s game. Photo by Robert Eliason.