With top-seed Homestead losing in the opening round of the Central Coast Section Division II playoffs on Monday, the San Benito softball team now has home field advantage the rest of the way. Haybalers coach Andrew Barragan isn’t looking ahead, but he couldn’t help but think about how wonderful it would be if the team could win a championship in its first year playing at newly minted Ray Barragan Stadium.
Ray Barragan, of course, was Andrew’s father and a pillar in the community for his generosity and giving ways. Should the No. 2 seed Balers (12-5) defeat Leigh on Wednesday, they would play either Presentation or Santa Teresa for the title on Thursday.
“What better feeling would it be to win a championship at our home stadium,” Andrew said. “Tuesday is our last practice, and we plan on being there Wednesday and Thursday at our home park for the (semifinals and finals).”
San Benito’s title quest got off to a nice start on Monday in a dominating 9-2 win over No. 7 seed Burlingame. Sophia Mariottini was stellar yet again, pitching a complete-game, four-hitter. Having just completed her sophomore year, the right-hander allowed two runs—zero earned—and struck out five in an efficient 79 pitches. Barragan said he is proud of Mariottini’s improved mental and physical toughness throughout the season.
“Sophie was beyond good today (in every phase of the game),” Barragan said. “She didn’t have her absolute best stuff, but she was still able to throw strikes. Her mental game has really toughened up from our first game versus St. Francis to where we’re at now. It’s night and day. Her mental toughness is there and she’s turned into a leader on the team.”
As she’s done most of the season, Mariottini helped her own cause with two RBIs, making her a potent threat in the circle and at the plate. Giana Perez ignited a three-run first inning with a two-run double. She added another double and finished with a game-high three RBIs. Shanelle Cavazos had a triple and Emma Gutierrez had two of the team’s 14 hits. Leadoff hitter and left fielder Madeline Bermudez had the best game of her burgeoning high school career, going 4 for 4 with three stolen bases and five total bases.
“Maddie was the player of the game,” Barragan said. “When your leadoff hitter goes 4 for 4, you’re going to win a lot of games. This was definitely a breakout game for Maddie and something we had been waiting for all along. She’s playing relaxed now and has that confidence and chip on her shoulder that tells everyone she’s a true leadoff hitter.”
San Benito has won eight of its last nine games, the one defeat coming to Notre Dame-Salinas, which just beat Mitty in the opening round in the Open Division. Barragan feels now that the team has been together for 100 days, they’re starting to jell and play its best ball of the season.
“Right now we’re just trying to fine-tune some things like working out little baserunning mistakes,” Barragan said. “But the girls have learned a lot and have worked hard to get to this point. We want to keep winning because this is what you play for, to win a CCS title.”
San Benito has qualified for the CCS playoffs and will find out its opponent after Wednesday’s seeding meeting. Coach Billy Aviles likes the position the team is in, especially with the strength of the pitching corps. Jackson Pace and Ryan Io—who threw for the first time in a month on Tuesday in a win over Pioneer—have been lights-out as starters and Austin Salamida and Ricky Madrigal have done likewise coming out of the bullpen.
“Those guys come in and fill up the strike zone,” Aviles said. “They’ve been a good righty-lefty combo and been really solid coming down the stretch. They give us a chance to win every single game.”
Brandon Flores is another pitcher who has come on strong of late. In a game against Pacific Grove, he came on in relief with no outs in the first inning and proceeded to throw a complete-game shutout. Offensively, sophomores Jaden Mingus, Breyon Chavez, Matt Pena and Alex Valencia have been ultra-productive. Pena plays first base, Mingus second, Chavez shortstop and Valencia is a DH.
“The sophomores at times have really been carrying the offense,” Aviles said. “Breyon is just a grinder and defensively he’s been unbelievable making every play and the spectacular plays. Those guys have locked down the middle (of the infield) for sure and have come through in some big RBI situations.”
Aviles said he feels as confident as he’s ever been in the team’s chances to win the program’s first-ever CCS championship. The only reason why they haven’t done so already is because they’ve routinely been placed in the Open Division, which features the top squads from the powerhouse West Catholic League.
However, Aviles expects his team to be a No. 1 or 2 seed in Division I for the upcoming playoffs.