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April 6, 2020

Sports: A Look Back at 2013

Another year, another season of great memories on the local sports scene.
In 2013, athletes from San Benito County provided fans with a number of captivating and standout performances, too many to count. Ironically enough, one of the best — if not the best — local sports moment of 2013 involved a game that had little drama whatsoever: The Haybalers softball team winning an eighth — count ’em, eighth — consecutive Central Coast Section Division I championship.
The Balers whipped Leland, 10-0, in a game that was called after five innings due to the mercy rule. While the outcome had long been decided — San Benito jumped out to a 9-0 lead after two innings — the ending was a festive one for the Balers, as coaches and players celebrated near the pitcher’s circle, a moment that has become quite familiar for everyone involved with the program.
As we welcome in the New Year, it’s time to say goodbye and look back at 2013 with equal parts nostalgia and fondness. Without further adieu, here is just a small sample of some of the lasting impressions of the past year — split up by the high school sports calendar (winter, spring and fall, with an add on for summer) — for 2013.
Top team: San Benito boys’ basketball
Most thrilling moment: San Benito girls’ basketball team’s two buzzer-beaters — in the same game
Top individual performance: Balers wrestler Robb Rodriguez qualifying for state
Top team
The San Benito boys’ basketball team certainly had a year to remember, finishing 21-4 overall and 11-1 in winning the Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division championship, its first league title since the 2003-04 season.
The Balers overachieved and were the epitome of cohesiveness, sharing the ball with precision and relying on toughness and fundamentals to finish ahead of Seaside and Palma, two teams that probably had a little more talent.
Here’s all you need to know about the Balers’ success: They were 6-1 in games decided by six points or less. That speaks volumes to the team’s resiliency and determination to consistently come through in crunch time, to go along with a focus and discipline borne out of a strong coaching staff.
“Last year was kind of a coach’s dream,” San Benito coach David Kaplansky said. “When you look at all the close wins, it shows you the type of character the boys had.”
Most thrilling moment
In its third league game against Salinas, the San Benito girls’ basketball team experienced a couple of moments they won’t soon forget.
To get this hard-fought win, though, the Balers had to hit not one, but two buzzer-beaters. Already down two players due to injuries, the Balers experienced further turmoil as they had three players foul out in this double overtime contest. Somehow, someway, they found a way to win.
Coming off the bench, Katherine Angeles hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to lift San Benito to an improbable 66-65 victory. The fact that the Balers got the game into the second OT was impressive in itself. San Benito trailed by four points with 45 seconds left in the first extra session when Anjelica Collins scored four consecutive points, the last two coming on a left-handed running jumper at the buzzer to force the second OT.
“It was a pretty amazing shot that sent us to double overtime,” Balers coach Mitch Burley told the Free Lance. “It was unbelievable. It was such a close game and calls went both ways. One team had to lose, but it was just amazing and unbelievable.”
Taylor Fabing had a team-high 19 points, including five 3-pointers.
Top individual performance
For senior Robb Rodriguez, qualifying for the California Interscholastic Federation State Meet in the 132-pound division was simply a byproduct of will, desire and an undying work ethic.
Rodriguez won the third-place match in the Central Coast Section Meet to punch his ticket to Bakersfield, and in doing so forever etched his name in the storied tradition of the San Benito wrestling program. Known for his maniacal workout regimen — Rodriguez said he would often train six hours a day after school — and toughness, Rodriguez left an indelible impression for future Baler wrestlers.
“Kids like Robbie, you don’t forget about, but you always consider him a sure thing,” San Benito coach Brian DeCarli told the Free Lance. “He won’t win every match, but we know what we are going to get out of him. He is going to be solid.”
Other notables
The San Benito girls’ soccer team won their first-ever CCS playoff match — although it took a couple of days to mark it in the record books.
The Balers, who finished the season 12-4-4, lost to Palo Alto on the scoreboard, but later earned the victory as it was ruled that Palo Alto had used an ineligible player. Thus, San Benito advanced to the quarterfinals, where it lost to section power Los Gatos, 2-0. … Anzar’s girls’ basketball team also won their first-ever CCS game, defeating Alma Heights Christian-Pacifica, 64-43, in the opening round of the Division V tournament.
Top team: San Benito softball
Most thrilling moment: San Benito girls’ swimming winning league in final race
Top individuals: Jacob Tonascia and Megan Sabbatini
Top team
As if you didn’t already know?
In winning its eighth straight CCS title — the record is nine, held by Notre Dame-Salinas — the San Benito softball team stamped itself as one of the best dynasties in CCS history — not just in softball, but in any sport, boys or girls.
Talk about a super team: The Balers finished 25-3, displaying characteristics associated with every great team. They were well-coached, fundamentally sound, displayed nerves of steel and fought through adversity to come out on top.
San Benito absolutely trounced Leland in the final, but years from now Balers coach Scott Smith will be telling people just how tough it was getting to the championship game. San Benito had all it could handle in the quarterfinals, where it needed eight innings to beat North Salinas, 4-3, before surviving a tough semifinal contest with Homestead, 2-1.
In both games, the Balers were taken to the limit, and yet they prevailed because they continually do and push all the right buttons every year, inning after inning, game after game, season after season. In 2013, it was no different.
Most thrilling moment
For the San Benito girls’ swimming team, the formula was simple.
If the Balers finished in the top four of the 400-yard freestyle relay — the final race of the MBL League Championships — the title was theirs. Led by seniors Caitlin Schafer and Rachel Estep, the Balers’ relay team finished in second, clinching the school’s fourth championship in six years.
In this case, finishing second never felt so good.
Top individuals
Every softball team needs a jackhammer of an ace in the circle, and San Benito had exactly that in Megan Sabbatini, who finished 18-0 with a 0.90 ERA in leading the Balers to an eighth consecutive CCS championship.
Sabbatini, who finished in a three-way tie for the Free Lance’s Female Athlete of the Year, earned a scholarship to play at the University of San Diego. In the CCS title game, a 10-0 win over Leland, Sabbatini had 10 strikeouts in five innings, and was a walk away from tossing a perfect game.
Jacob Tonascia, the Free Lance’s Male Athlete of the Year, starred in two sports and was last year’s MBL Basketball Gabilan Division MVP and a supreme difference-maker on the baseball field.
After Tonascia led the basketball team to its first league championship since the 2003-04 season, he made a seamless transition to baseball season, where he hit .402 with 12 doubles, including a game-tying home run in a 3-2 win over Menlo-Atherton in the first round of the CCS playoffs.
The Balers also had an impressive 5-0 win over Mitty before suffering a 6-0 loss to West Catholic League powerhouse Serra-San Mateo in the semifinals.
Other notables
San Benito’s Ryan Han had the golfing round of a lifetime, firing a 5-under par 67 — tops in the field — at Rancho Canada’s West Course in Carmel in CCS Regional Qualifying.
Only a handful of players have gone 67 or below in the last several years in a CCS regional or final. In the CCS finals, Han finished in a tie for eighth with a 73, missing the NorCal tournament by three strokes. … The San Benito boys’ volleyball team had arguably its best season in program history, finishing 27-6 overall and 15-1 in the MBL. Led by MBL MVP Robert Henderson, the Balers recorded a three-game sweep of Lynbrook in the opening round of the CCS playoffs.
Top team: Hollister Babe Ruth
Top alumnus: Jessica Vest
Top team
Hollister’s Babe Ruth senior team had a season for the ages, advancing to the World Series for the first time in program history.
Comprised of the 16-18 age group, Hollister reached last year’s World Series in Alabama after winning the California state tournament in mid-July and the Pacific Southwest Regional tournament in Utah.
Hollister beat the same opponent, Modesto, for the state and regional titles. In the regional championship game, Hollister won a dramatic contest, 12-11, on a walk-off hit in the eighth inning by Marcus Sabate, scoring Jacob Tonascia.
State tournament MVP Greg Steinbeck led Hollister with a number of strong pitching performances.
Top alumnus: Jessica Vest
The former San Benito standout played a key role in Oklahoma winning the Women’s College World Series.
Vest, who started 60 of 61 games at shortstop, hit .296 with three home runs and 14 RBI for the Sooners, who swept Tennessee two-games-to-none to capture the championship. Vest was also a standout in the classroom, finishing with a 4.0 GPA to earn All-Big 12 Conference Academic Team honors.
Top teams: San Benito boys and girls’ cross country
Most thrilling moment: San Benito football’s last-second miracle
Top individual performance: Diego Avila winning CCS
Top teams
San Benito’s cross-country program had a historic day in the MBL Championships, as it won five of the six contested races in one of the more dominating performances in the history of the meet.
The Balers won both of the boys and girls’ varsity and junior varsity races, to go along with the boys’ frosh-soph race.
“This is something you only dream about,” longtime San Benito boys’ coach Jess Morales said. “It means everything.”
Even though San Benito’s boys’ cross-country team fell short in its quest to qualify for the state meet by one spot, it put together another solid if not spectacular season.
Led by four-year standout Steven Velarde, the San Benito boys were a model of consistency all season, winning the MBL championship before finishing fourth in the Division I race of the CCS Championships.
Velarde finished fifth in the CCS Division I race before finishing 52nd out of 194 runners in the CIF State Meet.
Junior Amy Quinones led the girls by capturing her first individual league title at Toro Park in a personal-best time of 19 minutes, 2 seconds. Quinones took the lead midway through the race and pulled away to beat the second-place finisher by a whopping 32 seconds.
“This is a dream come true,” Quinones said. “
Most thrilling moment
This was San Benito’s version of The Catch.
David Stanton had the role of Joe Montana, and Zak Hicks had the role of Dwight Clark. Stanton and his teammates got the play call.
“It was actually a new play,” Stanton said. “We kind of put it in the game plan (the week before), and we had only practiced it a few times. I don’t ever remember running it in a game.”
No matter. It was now or never for the Haybalers, who saw a 21-point lead turn into a four-point deficit in this crucial league game at Seaside that would go a long way in determining their playoff fate. With just seconds left on the clock, San Benito had time for one play from the Spartans 20-yard line — a play that could potentially make or break its season.
The play called for tailback Hicks to line up as a receiver in the slot position, then run a corner route to the left side of the end zone.
“We figured Seaside would suck (its coverage) to the middle,” Stanton said. “Things were kind of crazy, of course, but Seaside called a timeout before our final play, which helped us huddle and figure out what we were going to do.”
Stanton dropped back to pass, and then got leveled immediately after he released the ball. Hicks, who had gotten behind the Seaside defense from the opening steps of his route, made a leaping catch with no time on the clock to seal one of the most exciting wins in school history, 30-28.
“The emotion was kind of similar to winning the CCS championship (in 2012),” Stanton said. “Everyone was jumping around and amazed things worked out for us.”
The miraculous finish put the Balers at .500, with a 4-4 overall mark and 2-2 record in the Gabilan Division. More importantly, it ignited another late-season push that saw San Benito win three of its next four games en route to a second straight CCS Division I championship game appearance.
Top individual performance
Anzar senior Diego Avila became the second runner in as many years from the San Juan Bautista school to win an individual section championship.
Avila easily outdistanced the field in winning the Division V race of the CCS Cross-Country Championships, finishing in 16:16 at the Crystal Springs Course in Belmont. Not bad for someone who couldn’t even break 24 minutes over a typical 3.0-mile course as a freshman.
“The feeling hasn’t sunk in yet that I’m a CCS champion,” said Avila, who also won the Mission Trail Coastal League title and finished 37th out of 198 runners in the Division V race of the CIF State Meet. “My league championship race, I was nervous as hell and couldn’t think straight. This race I had the opposite feeling, because I felt really good all day.”
Other notables
Completing just its third year as a program, the Anzar football team finished 5-4 overall and 3-4 in the 8-Man Mission Trail Athletic League. Anzar recorded one win in its inaugural season and had two victories last year.
“Going into this season, getting five wins is something we never thought would happen,” Hawks coach Luis Espinoza said. “Now we can realistically go into next season with the mentality that we can compete for a league championship.”
Anzar should be even more formidable for the upcoming season, as it returns a half-dozen starters in addition to an influx of newcomers that Espinoza expects to make an impact. …
The San Benito girls’ volleyball team quietly put together another strong season, highlighted by a non-league win against CCS power Palo Alto. The Balers finished 24-13 overall and in a tie for second place in the Gabilan Division. Seniors Alee Smallwood and Erica Chapa along with freshman sensation Marisa Villegas led the team with consistently strong efforts. …
San Benito senior Taylor Shaffer was the first Baler cheerleader in school history to perform in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Shaffer earned the exclusive invitation after a standout performance during the summer at a Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA) Camp, earning All-American status in the process.

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