Even though the Gilroy High softball team won last year’s Central Coast Section Division I playoff championship, it is acting as if it didn’t. In other words, the Mustangs are bringing the same intensity and work ethic to practice everyday, knowing they won’t be surprising anyone this season.
“It’s a thrill teams are shooting for us and out to get us,” said Christina Chavez, Gilroy’s outstanding first baseman and Fresno State University-signee. “We love it. It’s an honor to say we’re CCS Division I champs. We know there is a lot of controversy on who should’ve won that game and we have the attitude that it should’ve been us since we did win it and it’s going to be us that wins it again, hopefully.”
Gilroy edged San Benito 4-3 for the championship, the first time the Mustangs had even reached the playoffs in six years. However, it’s more difficult for a high school team to repeat as a section champion, for the simple fact that seniors usually play a heavy role and then are lost to graduation. However, the Mustangs lost only one senior starter—and it was their best player in Makenna Weiler—but everyone else returned, a fortuitous situation that has Gilroy primed to go the distance again.
“Makenna was a huge asset to the team, a great captain, leader and leadoff hitter,” Chavez said. “She was all of those things and more. It was a big loss, but we do have people stepping up to the plate to help fill her spot and aura that was there. It’s basically the same team from last year, but we’re only getting stronger and working harder and the coaches are constantly pushing us to be the best. We already have the team chemistry, so we’re focusing on ourselves to grow as individuals for the betterment for the team and to produce for the team.”
When it comes to production, Chavez was big-time in that department last season. Along with Weiler, Chavez led the team in nearly every major offensive statistical category, but it was her walk to strikeout ratio that stood out. Hitting in the cleanup spot, Chavez drew 13 walks while striking out only eight times all season, a remarkable achievement, especially for a power hitter like Chavez.
“I’m expected to have productive at-bats and hit with power,” said Chavez, who hit .420 and had three home runs last season while averaging an RBI per game. Chavez also finished with a .500 on-base percentage, and had a remarkable 1.159 OPS. “The focus is to be productive in the box, and I take extreme pride in doing that.”
As do her teammates. As strong as Gilroy was last season, it could be playing at a higher level come April and May. That’s because everyone has another year of experience under their belt, especially the sophomores who came in as freshmen last season and made a huge impact as then 14-year-olds.
One of those sophomores, Alysa Gutierrez, will play a key role in the circle. Along with workhorse senior Gianna Vanni, the two will eat up a lot of innings this season. However, Gilroy has strength in numbers in the pitching staff, which includes sophomores Savannah Wilson, Kaitlyn Martinez and Sabrina Lopez.
“The sophomores have a year under their belt and are a lot more mature and confident this year,” Mustangs coach Bria DeLorenzo said. “They know what it takes to pitch at the varsity level. We’re lucky in that we’re one of the few high schools that are really deep in pitching. We have five pitchers on the roster, and they’ll all see time in the circle at some point this year.”
Wilson pitched well in the team’s loss to perennial power Mitty on March 5, and Gutierrez moves the ball well and hits her target.
“All of them have different strengths and my job as a coach is to put them in the right situation against the right team,” DeLorenzo said. “They all have movement on their pitches and can hit their spots, something we stress.”
Annabelle Gutierrez, a senior shortstop and Weber State-signee, usually hits leadoff for a good reason: she sees a lot of pitches, gets on base and is a threat to steal and move up in scoring position. Abby Clark, a junior catcher/center fielder, provides productive at-bats, and Malia Mah, a sophomore catcher/third baseman, possesses a potent bat as well.
Vanessa Zozaya, a senior second baseman, and Savanah Castro, a senior designated player, are expected to produce clutch hits, just like they did a season ago. Sophomore Lauryn Yslava is projected to split the all-important catching duties with Clark and Mah.
“You’ll see our defense move a lot and the lineup could get shaken on a daily basis,” DeLorenzo said “It’s all about who’s hitting (well and being productive). We’re extremely fortunate in that we have a lot of depth on this team.”
Chavez plays her travel ball with the California Suncats, and throughout the off-season she worked with coach David Gutierrez to take her game to a higher level and improve in all aspects of the sport.
“I worked a lot with coach Dave to make sure I’m swinging at the pitch I want,” she said. “Being a four hitter you go into it knowing there are a lot of expectations to be a smart batter, wait for my pitch and make the pitcher work to your strength. As a four batter they’re not going to try to throw you anything good, so you have to be patient and keep to the plan.”
Chavez plays softball year-round—literally. Save for a couple of weeks in December, Chavez never goes more than a couple of days without a game, practice or workout. She’s always honing her skills, striving to maximize her potential. Her plan—and the team’s approach—revolves around hard work, preparation and steely-eye focus.
“The girls are confident and they know what it takes to win,” DeLorenzo said. “A championship doesn’t happen by mistake, it doesn’t happen by luck, it happens by a lot of hard work. When we began the season it was back to the grind and getting prepared to defend the championship. We should be as strong as last year if not stronger.”