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Tough non-league slate puts Balers in position to win Gabilan Division again

Junior shortstop Breyon Chavez, seen here recording an assist against Palma on 31, is hitting a team-best .485 among all San Benito High starters entering this week's play. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.

Like most of his San Benito High teammates, Breyon Chavez played in Hollister Little League and attended Haybalers games well before he got to high school. 

“I grew up going to Baler baseball games with my dad and remember thinking, ‘That’s going to be me out on that field one day,’” he said. “It’s just kind of crazy because I didn’t think it would come this quickly. I’m already a junior and only have one more season left after this one.”

The slick-fielding shortstop is making the most of the 2022 season, entering the week with a team-best .485 average among all starters. San Benito’s 3-2 loss to Palma on March 31 means both teams are 7-1 in Pacific Coast League Gabilan Division play with just under two-thirds of the league season left to play. 

The Balers beat Palma in the teams’ first matchup on March 29, and the rubber match is set for May 3. Coach Billy Aviles said the formula for the team’s success has been rather straightforward: solid pitching combined with tremendous up the middle defense. In catcher D.J. Lopes, Chavez, and second baseman Jaden Mingus, the team has been able to turn a lot of double plays. 

A big part of that equation stems from the pitching of Jackson Pace, Wyatt Barton and Ricky Madrigal, just to name a few. Pace took the hard-luck loss in the second Palma contest, allowing just one earned run in 5 ⅔ innings while striking out eight. 

Barton, who tossed five shutout innings in the Balers’ 4-1 win in the first Palma contest, has enjoyed a breakout season as a sophomore, which Aviles expected to happen. 

“Wyatt is a mid-80 (mph) guy and throws three pitches for strikes in any count,” Aviles said. “He can pitch backwards and come right at you with the fastball. He’s a big-time competitor—that’s Wyatt’s biggest attribute.”

The same could be said of Chavez, who focuses on baseball and training for the sport year-round. Chavez plays his travel ball with Dub Baseball with teammate Matt Pena. The two are close friends and have played together for most of their careers. 

“We went to Cooperstown (New York) for a tournament when we were younger, Arizona, and we’ve always played together,” Chavez said. “We’re super close friends and he’s a great talent.”

Chavez also has been impressed with the play of Barton, who gives Aviles a nice 1-2 punch in the circle as both he and Pace are pitching like aces. 

“Wyatt had a no-hitter against Palma through five innings and he’s pitched some amazing games,” Chavez said. “That’s been our team highlight so far, beating Palma.”

Chavez has been batting leadoff and hit his first home run in a San Benito uniform in the second league game at home against Gilroy High last month. In typical Chavez fashion, he had his head down and didn’t actually watch the ball go over the fence as he was sprinting toward second base in anticipation of the ball bouncing off the wall. 

“I saw the ball come off the bat, but after that I didn’t see it because I was trying to get to second base on the double,” he said. “It was a two-strike count and I shortened up to go the other way. But he hung an off-speed pitch and I got the bat out quickly and took it to left field. My mindset is to hit the fastball early and get on base because I know the guys behind me can hit. The bottom of the order is also getting on and moving runners over well, so if I’m up to bat, my job is to get them home.”

Aviles set up the toughest non-league schedule of any team in the Central Coast Section this season, including Wilcox, Valley Christian, St. Francis and Mitty. Although the Balers haven’t fared well against those teams—they’re 0-3 with the St. Francis contest set for April 19—their plan is to improve so by the end of the season if they earn a berth into the Division I playoffs they’ll be better equipped to turn the tables on the section’s best programs. 

A year ago, San Benito saw its season end in disappointing fashion, losing to Sequoia High in the Division II championship game, 11-4. The Balers were confident they would finally break through, especially since they weren’t in the Division I field with the WCAL teams. 

“Last year we had a chance at CCS and this year we’ll do as much as we can to get there again and hopefully win it this time,” Chavez said. 

Being a part of the Balers’ potentially first CCS-winning team would bring everything full circle for Chavez, who still remembers being that little kid in the stands and visualizing the day he would be In the on-deck circle preparing to come to bat. 

“It’s a great feeling being able to represent this small town and the high school,” he said.

Haybalers senior Jackson Pace delivers a pitch in the March 31 Palma game. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
D.J. Lopes has been solid behind the dish for San Benito, which is tied for 1st with Palma. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
Jaden Mingus is having another solid year coming off a terrific sophomore season. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.

Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at elee@weeklys.com