For the fourth time in program history, the Gilroy High softball team has won a Central Coast Section championship. The No. 8 seed Mustangs made it happen after a 8-5 win over Woodside on Thursday in the Division III title game.
“I can’t be more proud of the girls,” Mustangs coach Dusty Lester said. “They played so well and our bats just came alive.”
Did they ever. Gilroy outscored three playoff opponents 36-5 and trailed just once en route to the championship. In some ways, the Mustangs’ championship run was an improbable one. For one, a season was hardly guaranteed due to Covid. Second, Gilroy entered the postseason with a 3-10 record; however, that was somewhat misleading because it played an ultra-competitive schedule that included three league champions and West Catholic League power programs such as St. Francis, Valley Christian, Mitty and Presentation.
Even amid a six-game skid during the heart of the season, the Mustangs never wavered in their confidence or outlook.
“No, of course not,” catcher and leadoff hitter Malia Mah said. “Each one of us gives our best effort and puts whatever we got into every practice and game. We did it for coach Dusty because he was the one who put all the effort in to get us on the field. We wanted to do it for him and each other.”
It was Mah who scored the team’s first run in the top of the first inning. She reached base after getting hit by a pitch on the knee, advanced to second on Hannah Hoeptner’s sacrifice-bunt, then scored on Xochitl Garcia’s bloop single to left field. The No. 7 seed Wildcats answered with two runs in the bottom of the second inning—the first and only time during the playoffs in which the Mustangs trailed.
However, they took the lead for good with a four-run third, highlighted by Alysa Gutierrez’s two-run single. The Wildcats always stayed within striking distance, however, so the Mustangs needed timely hits throughout. They received a big one from Garcia, whose two-run homer in the top of the fourth was part of a three-run inning that gave them a 8-3 lead.
It proved to be the extra insurance runs Gilroy would need as Woodside added single runs in the sixth and seventh to account for the final score. Garcia also had a home run the day before in the team’s 11-0 semifinal win over Mercy-Burlingame.
“She’s our future,” Lester said. “She will be our No. 1 pitcher and top home run hitter next year.”
Sabrina Lopez allowed two runs on five hits in the final 4 ⅔ innings after coming on in relief for Gutierrez with one out and runners on first and third in the third inning. Gutierrez produced a herculean pitching performance in the playoffs, striking out a career-high 14 batters in the semifinal round after going the full five innings in a mercy-rule victory over Overfelt. Lester praised both of his senior standout pitchers for their efforts all season.
“We were riding Alysa as far as she could go, and we put Sabrina in and wound up shutting them down enough after that,” Lester said.
Garcia had a team-high three hits, and Mah and Savannah Wilson had two hits each. Mah scored three times, while Garica and Lopez came across home plate twice apiece.
“Savannah had been struggling earlier and really came through in the Mercy game and got key base hits for us,” Lester said.
The six recent graduates—Gutierrez, Mah, Lopez, Wilson, Lauryn Yslava, and Hannah Hoeptner—were freshmen on the team’s 2018 CCS Division I championship team and earned the distinction of being the only class in the program’s rich history to win two CCS titles in four years. In the 2018 title contest, Yslava scored the winning run in the top of the sixth inning in a 4-3 win over San Benito.
“It’s a blessing being a part of both title winning teams,” said Mah, who will be playing for Division I program Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo next year. “We were just excited to play because we didn’t even think we’d have a season. Coach Dusty’s main goal was to get us on the field, stay safe and have fun. It’s just amazing how it all turned out in the end. We were thankful for being in the championship game, let alone winning it. It’s absolutely amazing. We just fed off each other’s energy and kept on pumping each other up as the innings went on. We wanted to go out with a bang and we did.”
Lester has known many of the players since they were in elementary or middle school, so being able to go through this season together is something he’ll never forget.
“It was a crazy year with Covid and then getting into the season and playing all the tough teams,” he said. “It would’ve been real easy to pick out the negative stuff, but we tried to stay positive, highlight the good things, keep on working and believing in ourselves.”
Lester teased the players about giving him an early birthday present and win the game since he turns 70 on June 18. Like usual, they delivered.
“I had confidence in them,” he said.
Lester made sure to point out Yslava’s value to the team. She missed the semifinal and final because of a college orientation trip she had to take to Southern Illinois University, where she will play softball on scholarship next year.
“She was our No. 1 catcher and we wouldn’t have gotten to this point without her,” Lester said. “She had 10 to 12 home runs and was one of the six seniors on the team. We wouldn’t have come close to being CCS champions this year without her leadership behind the plate and the crucial home runs she hit.”