Gilroy High softball coach Dusty Lester knows how important Senior Night is for the players who are set to graduate in June. Given the unpredictable nature of Covid-19, Lester decided to hold Senior Night early in the season rather than near the end.
“If something happened and we somehow got shut down again, I didn’t want them to miss Senior Night on the field,” he said.
On April 29, a strong contingent of Gilroy fans showed up to celebrate their seniors, many of whom made key contributions in a 13-4 win over Christopher. A year ago, the Gilroy players and coaches had to do a drive-by “Senior Night” for its lone 2020 senior, Abby Clark. This time the Mustangs were able to recognize six seniors on the field: Sabrina Lopez, Malia Mah, Alysa Gutierrez, Hannah Hoeptner, Lauryn Yslava and Savannah Wilson.
The six were all on the 2018 team that won a Central Coast Section championship. For Lester, the emotion is in the fact he’s known many of them since they were little girls.
“It’s like a family,” he said. “I love all of them.”
Gilroy banged out 14 hits, three each from Lopez and Yslava and two apiece from Gutierrez and Xochitl Garcia. Lopez and Yslava had monster games, with Lopez scoring four times and Yslava hitting a two-run homer in the fourth inning. Mah scored three times and Gutierrez pitched a complete game, allowing six hits and striking out seven while allowing four runs – but zero earned.
Unfriendly bounces and tough hops made it a particularly rough fielding day for both teams, especially Christopher. The Cougars committed five errors that led to eight unearned runs.
“We have to learn and make adjustments when we’re playing at different fields because our field is a lot different as far as how hard the ground is,” Cougars coach Amanda Tellez said. “Some of the bounces are very choppy and we have to eat the ball up before it eats us up. So that was a big one, not charging the ball right away. You sit back and the ball is going to hop up more and eat you up, so that really got to us.”
Nina Taylor, who has been a reliable presence in the circle, went the full six innings for Christopher and gave up 14 hits and five earned runs. Christopher has a thin roster of 11 players, a byproduct of injuries, the modified sports calendar and student-athletes in the Gilroy Unified School District having to pick one sport for Season 2.
“She’s our No. 1 and our only one (pitcher),” Tellez said.
Taylor also led the team with two hits. The Cougars got to within 6-4 after scoring a run in the top of the fifth inning, but the Mustangs erupted for five runs in the bottom half to essentially seal the outcome. Gilroy sent 10 batters to the plate and produced six hits, including a two-run single from Lopez. Gilroy added two more runs in the sixth for good measure to account for the final score.
“We let Christopher get back in the game, but the girls were able to overcome that and get momentum back on their side,” Lester said.
The Mustangs have faced a particularly tough schedule this season, playing the likes of Valley Christian, St. Francis and Mitty.
“We got all the top teams, but that is good for the girls because we’ve never shied down from playing the really good teams,” Lester said. “We’ve hung in there.”
Both teams have players who have signed to play for four-year programs, including Gutierrez (Colorado Mesa), Mah (Cal Poly), Yslava (Southern Illinois) and Emily Budelli (University of the Pacific). Hoeptner is set to play water polo at Santa Clara University but will try to walk-on the softball team, Lester said.
Tellez said the speedy Budelli has been solid at the leadoff position and in center field, and finds a way to get on base and take extra bases. Third baseman Bianca Duarte is a solid hitter and fields her position well, while outfielders Ashley Fong and Emma Horn have been reliable players in the program. Both coaches are happy that their players get a season, as it will prove memorable for several reasons.
“Especially for our seniors, it’s important to send them off on a good note,” Tellez said.
When the Mustangs get in a rhythm offensively, they score runs in bunches. Lester said Yslava has four home runs this season, followed by two from Mah and one from Wilson. Garcia, a sophomore, has a potent bat and is the probable ace of the team next season. Catarina Correia, Aaliyah Cordova and Kaylin Battaglia have also had some strong hitting games, Lester said.