Gilroy looks to peak in the home stretch

Mustangs sophomore Alysa Gutierrez has emerged as a bona-fide No. 1-type pitcher. Photo by Robert Eliason.

The Gilroy High softball team started the Pacific Coast League Gabilan Division season with four consecutive wins, looking every bit like a squad that was seeking to accomplish something it couldn’t do last year despite capturing a Central Coast Section Division I title: win a league championship. 

However, the Mustangs dropped back-to-back Gabilan Division games to Watsonville and San Benito, making their contest with crosstown rival Christopher High last Friday essentially a must-win game to stay in league championship contention. Gilroy came through with a 6-3 home victory, ending a mini skid and getting the team back on the winning track entering a two-week break from league play. 

“It was a very important game for us, especially because we had a tough game (against San Benito),” said Alysa Gutierrez, who pitched a complete-game with eight strikeouts. “We had to come back and show the type of team we actually are.”

The Mustangs, of course, are the reigning CCS Division I champions and returned all but one starter off last year’s squad. Gutierrez has emerged as the team’s No. 1 pitcher, a sophomore right-hander who utilizes tremendous spin in her vast pitching arsenal to get hitters out. Gutierrez throws a curveball, drop and off-speed curve. 

“Alysa throws with a lot of movement,” Mustangs coach Bria DeLorenzo said. “She knows how to spin the ball. She has been super solid for us and one of our strengths as a team is our defense and being able to support Alysa in the circle so she’s able to trust her pitches and put them where she needs to put them.”

Gilroy improved to 11-5 overall and 5-2 in league play, while Christopher dropped to 7-10 and 3-4 in Gabilan Division play. The Cougars only produced five hits, with one of them being a towering home run off the bat of UC Davis-bound Sarah Starks. Bianca Duarte and Bella Delgado had doubles for the Cougars, and leadoff hitter Emily Budelli had a walk and single. 

Gilroy finished with nine hits, with Savanah Castro leading the way with a game-high three hits and two RBIs. Abby Clark and Hannah Hoeptner had two hits each, and Malia Mah reached base in all four of her plate appearances, courtesy of a single, two walks and getting hit by a pitch. The Gilroy coaching staff stresses quality at-bats, and the players for the most part were patient at the plate and made Cougars starter Gabreila Howard work hard to get outs. 

“Offensively, our goal is to continue to get on base and get hits, and we’re doing that,” DeLorenzo said. “We’re getting a lot of baserunners on right now, but we need to grow in getting those runners in to score. We should’ve scored some more runs than what we did.”

Gutierrez pitched sparingly last year, but has come on strong this season after a productive travel ball season with the California Suncats and a year of varsity experience under her belt. The standout sophomore had a goal to increase the velocity on her pitches, which has come to fruition.  

“I really focused on my speed and spins (in the off-season),” she said. “I did lot of practices with cardio in it so I could get in shape and throw the ball faster.”

Said DeLorenzo: “The one thing she’s really been working on is driving with her legs and getting more velocity on her pitches, and you see that when she’s out there.”

Against Christopher, Gutierrez hit the outside corners with her curveball, taking what the home plate umpire was giving her. She received some stellar help from her defense, which didn’t commit a single error. Laurn Yslava, a sophomore right fielder, made the defensive play of the game when she fielded a ground ball and threw a dart to first base to gun down a Christopher baserunner in the second inning. 

“Our goal is to always do well on defense, and they did that in this game,” DeLorenzo said. “We played a clean game, and you’re going to win more than you lose if you can play error-free ball.”

Softball was one of several sports Gutierrez played growing up; however, at the age of 12 Gutierrez decided to focus solely on softball, and more specifically, pitching. Before the season started, Gutierrez and a couple of other pitchers were battling for the ace role, and two weeks into the season she had emerged as leading candidate to be the No. 1 starter. 

“Before the season started, I knew all of the other pitchers who were fighting for the spot also worked hard in travel ball,” Gutierrez said. “I knew I had to work for it and that even if I did struggle, there were three pitchers behind me who will take care of the job.”

Indeed, DeLorenzo raved about Gutierrez’s work ethic, which is second to none. 

“Alysa works incredibly hard in the bullpen,” she said. “The kid doesn’t takes days off and she’s always working on something whether it’s spins and drills. Even if it’s a quote-unquote rest day for her, it’s not really a rest day. She’s working on something to be better for herself and to help this team.”