There is no magic formula when it comes to a team playing its best at the most important time of the season—the playoffs. If there were, every coach would bottle that formula up and follow it the letter. Fortunately for the Gilroy High softball team, it seemingly has the blueprint for postseason success.
The top-seed Mustangs (17-9-1) enter Tuesday’s Central Coast Section Division II playoff semifinal against No. 13 North Salinas (17-7) in prime position to reach their first section championship game since they last won the title in 2013. Gilroy has blasted both of its opponents in the playoffs, mercy-ruling Independence 10-0 in the first round before hammering Los Altos 10-2 in the quarterfinals.
“The team is definitely looking and feeling good right now,” said junior Gianna Vanni, who has been the team’s No. 1 pitcher since the beginning of the season. “With each game, we’re getting more excited and anxious in a good way. We’re more focused and ready for anything.”
Despite finishing third in the Monterey Bay League’s Gabilan Division and having co-Gabilan champion San Benito in the Division I field, Gilroy earned the No. 1 seed by virtue of a strength of schedule that included playing five league champions outside of league.
“We scheduled those teams with the purpose to prepare us for these moments right now for CCS,” Mustangs coach Bria DeLorenzo said. “I’m definitely proud of the way the girls have played so far. We’re definitely peaking right now, and it’s the right time to do it. We just need to keep it going for a couple of more games.”
Led by a potent battery combination of catcher Makenna Weiler—the only senior on the team—and junior pitcher Gianna Vanni, Gilroy enters the CCS semifinals having won six of its last seven games. Vanni is pitching for her hometown high school after attending Monte Vista Christian in Watsonville for her freshman and sophomore years.
The transition to Gilroy was a rather smooth one, as Vanni already knew several of the players, having grown up with some of them and either playing with them or seeing them on the travel ball circuit. Vanni throws her pitches with plenty of movement, utilizing a curveball, riseball and changeup.
Vanni can throw any of those three pitches for strikes on a given count; however, Vanni realizes a lot of times she has to adjust her pitching to the given umpire’s strike zone that day. Yes, umpires are supposed to have a universal strike zone; however, Vanni has seen a wide range of zones, and it’s up to her to adjust and take advantage of whatever the umpire’s preferred zone is.
“I usually work with whatever the umpire is giving me,” she said. “Whether it’s the outside, inside or up and down the zone, I’m going to try to take advantage of the situation.”
Vanni said she appreciates Weiler, who is hitting a robust .523 for the season.
“That’s just insane for someone who plays in one of if not the best league in the section,” DeLorenzo said. “She’s led the charge all year, and she hasn’t slumped, which tells you everything you need to know about Makenna.”
Although Weiler’s offensive production has been spectacular, Vanni said it’s the other areas of the game—defense, communication and leader—that makes Weiler an impact player.
“Makenna knows what kind of pitcher I am and how to get me through games,” Vanni said. “She’s good at pumping me up and very good at encouraging me and getting me mentally prepared for and during the game.”
Vanni started playing softball when she was 8, and she has plenty of experience. Over the years, Vanni has maintained a routine in tight situations.
“When I feel pressure, I try to relax myself mentally and focus on the next pitch,” she said. “Even when the game gets really intense, sometimes I pray before a pitch and hope I’ll make the pitch to get us out of the inning for our team. We want to share more amazing moments together.”
Against Los Altos, Gilroy produced 14 hits, including three hits apiece from Abby Clark and Christina Chavez, who had two of the Mustangs’ six doubles. Freshmen Lauren Yslava and Kaitlyn Martinez led the team with two RBIs each. For Gilroy to beat North Salinas, the plan is rather simple.
“We really need to stick with what we’ve been doing,” DeLorenzo said. “There is no need to stress or press right now. If we take care of the ball offensively and defensively, we should hopefully be playing in that final game.”