Books first. Base? Second.

The Gilroy Stanford Cardinal travel softball team: Back row,

Gilroy
– If there’s one thing that’s always come pretty easily to Mandy
Lafuente, it’s school.
Well, that and memorizing every line of the baseball movie

A League of Their Own.

Gilroy – If there’s one thing that’s always come pretty easily to Mandy Lafuente, it’s school.

Well, that and memorizing every line of the baseball movie “A League of Their Own.”

The 14-year-old Lafuente, who finished eighth grade with a 4.0 grade point average and plays travel softball for the 14-and-under Gilroy Stanford Cardinal of the GPA & Sports, Inc. organization, was named the salutatorian of this year’s eighth grade class at St. Mary.

So what’s her secret?

“I didn’t study all the time, but when I had to study, I studied hard,” Lafuente said.

And the motivation?

“I guess the fact that I want to get into college, a good college,” Lafuente said. “I push myself to that. I want to go to college in California.

“Somewhere by the beach.”

Since joining GPA & Sports, which requires its players to maintain at least a 2.0 GPA to play, Lafuente, a second baseman, has applied that same work ethic to her softball game.

Lafuente said maintaining a high GPA has never been a problem. But it’s been the softball part that she’s really had to work at.

“Mandy requires a lot of hard work and she never gives up on it. She is constantly developing her skill,” said Stanford Cardinal coach Joe Hernandez. “She’s not talented where things come easy. It’s a constant battle for her.”

In many cases, a student-athlete’s sports work ethic transfers over to academics. But with Lafuente, it’s the opposite.

“I think the (academic) work ethic transferred into softball,” said Mandy’s father Gonzalo Lafuente. “Her academics come first, and then her sport.”

Gonzalo Lafuente, who was involved with the Gilroy Little League organization for several years, said his daughter was interested in dance, not sports, at a young age.

“She never wanted anything to do with sports,” he said. “She did dance, and when she stopped that, she had to do something. She wasn’t going to be just hanging out.”

So her family enrolled her in Little League softball at the age of nine. She took a liking to the sport.

“I just like the excitement of it,” Mandy said.

Just like in school, Mandy has shown a work ethic beyond her years when it comes to training for softball.

“She definitely has a maturity you don’t see in a lot of other kids,” Hernandez said. “Mandy’s the kind of kid, when she’s not there, you can feel it. You’re missing that little extra spark you typically have. She’s the glue that holds the team together.”

At the St. Mary graduation ceremony on Friday, Mandy got up in front of the crowd and gave a speech as part of her salutatorian duties.

“I was just thanking my teachers and said goodbye to my friends,” Mandy said.

Gonzalo Lafuente said it was a proud moment for him and his wife, Mary.

“Her speech was excellent because it was from the heart, speaking to people that were with her for nine years at St. Mary,” Gonzalo Lafuente said. “I guess as parents, it’s your proudest moment when your kid can be at the top of the class and use their own words and express themselves without coming to you. We had no clue (what she was going to say).”

Guess those were Mandy’s skills from English, her favorite class, shining through. Or a reflection of her heavy reading habit.

Then again, Gonzalo Lafuente and Hernandez said Mandy always has something to say.

“She’s never lost for words,” Gonzalo Lafuente laughed. “I think my wife blames me for that.”

Added Hernandez, “She’s a little on the short side and we razz her about that. She’ll turn around and look you dead in the eye and go ‘That’s not nice.’ She’ll come right back at you.”

But she lets her older brother James, who pitched for the freshman baseball team this season at Gilroy High, get away with calling her “The Midge.” James has been one of Mandy’s biggest fans and Gonzalo Lafuente said his son has probably seen “90 percent” of his sister’s games. Mandy has been a big supporter of her brother, too.

“He’s a good example,” Mandy said. “He’s a hard worker in sports.”

In the fall, Mandy will attend Gilroy High, where she intends to continue her softball career. But up first, some summer ball with the Stanford Cardinal.

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