The fireworks provided by the San Benito High softball team came way of Giana Perez and the new lights at Ray Barragan Stadium, which flickered and strobed on command at high points in the Haybalers’ Pacific Coast League Gabilan Division game against Alvarez High on March 9.
San Benito won 2-0 to improve to 4-1 on the season, and all signs point to the team being able to repeat as Central Coast Section champions this season. Alvarez provided a nice challenge, loading the bases in the top of the first inning. However, Balers ace Sophia Mariottini got out of the jam after some nice infield play from Seryna Esparza and shortstop Mia Phillips.
Esparza had a double in the bottom half of the inning before San Benito got on the board in the second. That’s when Dominique Oliveira drove home Emma Gutierrez, who had reached on a double before stealing third base.
Both teams recorded several 1-2-3 innings in what amounted to a pitcher’s duel. Phillips, a 15-year-old sophomore, played a key role in San Benito’s sharp fielding and overall defense.
“I wanted to keep my pitcher on the field and knew we had to back her up,” she said. “So I just went for every ball and it all came together as the game went on. I think we did a great job of playing as a team.”
It was not until the fifth inning that another player was able to get on base, with Oliveira again connecting with the ball. Mariottini, a 17-year-old junior standout who led the team to the section title last season, singled out Oliveria for praise at the end of the game.
“You can definitely tell she is working hard,” Mariottini said. “She came in this season and she was ready to play. I am so proud of her and she is really stepping up as a role model.”
Perez, the 18-year-old senior first baseman who has signed with Sonoma State, provided some sixth inning excitement when she hit a home run to make it 2-0 and set off the stadium lights as she circled the bases.
“When I connected, I was a little surprised at first,” she said, “but then I thought about who I am and what I bring to the team. And, as the No. 4 batter, that is my job. That’s what I am supposed to do. But I loved seeing all the lights flashing as I ran the bases. I am glad I could have that for my senior year.”
Mariottini, Esparza, Perez, Maddie Bermudez, Oliveira and Bella Buzzetta are returning starters from a team that won the program’s 11th CCS title last June. It all starts with Mariottini, who combines talent with guile to get out of jams and dominate at times.
An exhausted Mariottini reflected on her performance at the end of the game.
“It was a little stressful and nerve-wracking out there tonight,” she said. “I struggled a bit in the beginning, but my defense backed me up and I knew I could put all my faith in them and that we would come through.”
Coach Andrew Barragan said Alvarez was a tough team, but that his squad was in top form.
“They put the ball in play and Sophie pitched ridiculously well,” he said. “She’s obviously the MVP and she is going to keep us in every game. Pitching and defense is going to win us a championship again. And we got a little cherry on top with Gianna and that home run.”
Barragan says that the team still has some room to improve as the season goes along.
“We have to get better at making adjustments at the plate,” he said. “When you are up against a great pitcher like Alvarez’s, she might not have had great speed but she kept us off-balance. We have to be able to make our adjustments the next time up. In this game, we had no momentum at all and we are used to building a string of hits. It was frustrating, but it gives us something to work on.”
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]