Before the season started, San Benito High softball coach Andrew Barragan couldn’t stop raving about the talent of this year’s team. Now everyone knows why. The Haybalers won the program’s 11th Central Coast Section championship after dominating Presentation 6-0 on Thursday in the Division II title contest.
“This was a big group effort—that’s what I liked,” said Barragan, who guided San Benito to a 2016 section championship in his first year as the Balers coach. San Benito also advanced to the 2018 Division I title game where it lost to Gilroy. “I was pretty excited about this team, but the fear was the underclassmen wouldn’t have enough time to develop because of Covid and the short season. But you saw it—they fit right in and didn’t miss a beat.”
No kidding. The Balers—who started four freshmen and two sophomores in the title game—accomplished something rare, winning a CCS championship with just one senior starter in Kaiya Dickens. That speaks volumes to the freshmen and sophomores who most certainly played with a maturity beyond their years, along with a strong junior class.
Speaking of level-headed, pitcher Sophia Mariottini was the picture of focus and determination all season. All she did on Thursday was shut down a physical Presentation lineup, allowing just four hits and striking out eight in going the distance.
Mariottini was in complete control the entire way, utilizing a sharp riseball while having plenty of velocity on her fastball to keep the Presentation hitters off-balance throughout.
“I was really pumped up and excited and aiming for that first-pitch strike,” said Mariottini, who recently completed her sophomore year. “It feels really amazing to win, especially with our young team because you feel like we wouldn’t be that mature. But we were working really hard all season and working well together.”
Said Barragan: “Sophie was dominant. They couldn’t touch her. She didn’t have her (absolute) best stuff today, but was still good enough to throw a shutout.”
San Benito peaked at the perfect time, outscoring three playoff opponents, 26-3. The Balers jumped on the Panthers for three runs in the bottom of the first inning, as Giana Perez drove in one run by roping a double to the deep left field and Seryna Esparza lining a two-run single later in the inning. After striking out in her second at-bat, Perez was intentionally walked in her next at-bat before Presentation issued an unintentional intentional walk to Perez in her fourth plate appearance.
Basically, the Panthers had no intention of throwing a strike to Perez, who was seeing the ball well and hitting hard liners in all three postseason games. Maddie Bermudez, Mariottini, and Esparza had two hits each. Mariottini had an RBI double in the fourth inning, while Esparza made a nice snag on a liner when Presentation had runners on second and third base.
Mariottini also displayed solid defense by fielding a bunt in front of home plate and throwing a BB to first for the second out in the top of the fifth. Catcher Dominique Oliveira followed by gunning down a runner attempting to advance to second base.
“It gives me a lot of confidence to know the team is backing me up and will make plays,” Mariottini said.
The players were loose and relaxed, a byproduct of them watching the Women’s College World Series together on Tuesday.
“That was really great for us because we really got to see how those players react,” Mariottini said. “We really brought that type of energy to our next couple of games. That was the best vocally we’ve ever been and it was really fun and great to be a part of this team.”