SOFTBALL: Rams hitting their stride in wide-open Coast Conference


After three straight second-place finishes, Gavilan visualizing
conference crown
Before each game, Gavilan College softball manager Nikki Dequin circles around her players as they lay on their back, eyes closed and faces pointed toward the sky.

Dequin calmly describes game situations as she saunters around the group of 15.

“We visualize our skills on the field, making a play, diving for a ball, seeing an inside pitch, outside pitch, and visualizing and feeling the emotions they feel when they are successful,” Dequin said. “I encourage them to do it on their own. Every now and then I will have a young lady come up to me and say, ‘Hey coach, I did it last night,’ and she comes out and has a great game. Mental toughness is always something I’ve focused on.”

After finishing runner-up in the Coast Conference the past three seasons – with each season including a trip to the playoffs – the Rams had their sights set on the crown that has been monopolized by San Jose City in recent years.

“We need to play well and do well in conference. We are trying to win a championship, which we haven’t done yet,” Dequin said. “They came out thinking that this was our year to take it.”

After posting a 9-7 non-conference record to begin the campaign, as well as a 5-0 victory over Monterey Peninsula College in the Coast Conference opener March 1 and a win at Hartnell to move to 2-0, the preseason intuitions and title hopes were already taking shape. However, the Rams were dealt a reality check in back-to-back doses when an unexpected loss to much-improved West Valley (March 3) preceded a disheartening defeat in the final inning against San Jose City last Tuesday.

“We started out really well but when we got into conference, we kind of lost some of our confidence. And that’s the only problem. If we can get over our own mental blocks, we are going to be outstanding,”

Though the setbacks were tough to swallow at the time, the blips shifted the Rams’ focus back to taking care of themselves on the field by letting their skills take over.

A players-only team meeting materialized into a 4-1 triumph over Cabrillo last Thursday, keeping the Rams smack-dab in the middle of what has turned out to be a very congested Coast Conference South.

As of Monday, Hartnell and its 4-1 record sit atop the standings. However, Gavilan (3-2), West Valley (3-2) and San Jose City (3-2) are all within one game of the leaders.

“It’s all over the place this year,” Dequin said. “It can be anybody’s year.”

The Rams are led by veteran pitcher Nicole Lobato, whose 2.08 earned run average is second in the conference. And with freshman Samantha Bejarano as the No. 2 in the circle, Dequin has two hurlers to whom she can hand the ball.

The Rams, at times, have started five freshmen this season, including Alexandria Ferrel, Cassandra Garcia and Adrianna Osuna, while a pair of freshmen lead the team in two offensive categories – Shayna Osuna’s .283 batting average Kristy Pineda’s 11 RBI.

But where the Rams have struggled this season is with the bats, and with a team batting average of .204 through 20 games – not including last weekend’s tournament at Fremont – Gavilan’s offense is last in the league.

Thursday’s game, though, pointed to perhaps a turning point at the plate.

The victory against the Seahawks did two things for the Rams: Not only were the bats on cue, but the players’ approach at the plate appeared more relaxed and disciplined, Dequin said.

“I’ve got great kids. They are very talented young ladies,” Dequin said. “(The coaches) have seen the talent that they have, they just need to figure it out. We have a group of young ladies that can really hit the ball. We just weren’t being selective and girls were trying too hard to not strike out. I think we got over a hurdle.”

Gavilan went 3-3 at the March Madness Tournament in Fremont over the weekend, notching wins against Diablo Valley (4-3), MPC (7-3) and Cabrillo (13-6).

Up next, the Rams (14-11, 3-2) begin crossover conference action, taking on teams in the North division. They’ll begin with College of San Mateo Tuesday and De Anza on Thursday. Both contests are on the road and the Rams do not return home until March 22, when they will face Foothill.

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