GILROY — Watsonville High’s star freshman distance runner Layla Ruiz said she had to choose between playing softball or running track and field this spring.
“It was a really tough decision,” said Ruiz, who played competitive softball for the last five years.
Ruiz might not be swinging the aluminum anymore, but she is still adept at the art of the walk-off.
Running the final leg of the 4×400-meter relay, Ruiz pushed Watsonville into first and helped the Wildcatz clinch their first Monterey Bay League Pacific division title of the decade on Friday night at Gilroy High.
Ruiz cruised to wins in the 1,600 and 3,200 in 5 minutes, 33.74 seconds and 12:18.23, respectively, before helping the final relay lock in the team title by passing up a runner down the stretch. She also finished second in the 800 (2:28.89) behind teammate Daniela Salazar.
Salazar, a senior, accompanied her fourth straight 800 title with second-place finishes in the 1,600 (5:40.02) and 400 (1:02.28). She also ran the opening leg of the winning 4×400, which also included freshmen Alexandra Corona and Carolina Avalos and clocked in at 4:22.23.
“Putting those two girls in four events, it’s dangerous,” said Watsonville head coach Rob Cornett. “But I’m glad that they had their efforts pay off.”
Senior Jackie Barocio won the triple jump with a leap of 32 feet, and junior Jessica Zavala and freshman Evenie Ramirez gathered key points in the throws to help Watsonville edge Christopher High, 114-102. Monterey High, which finished undefeated in league dual meets this season, took third with 98 points. Gilroy (94), Monte Vista Christian (40), Seaside High (25) and Pajaro Valley High (20) rounded out the league.
“We put the right people in the right events at the right time,” Cornett said. “That’s been what we’ve done all year. We didn’t change much.”
Ruiz cruised to a win in the 1,600 through the dry heat to open up the day, but couldn’t best her teammate in the 800. Salazar — the school’s record holder in the 800 — chilled back as Ruiz pushed the pace, but sprung forward during the final 300 meters to defend her title with a time of 2:28.36.
“Whether I got first or second didn’t matter because I knew Watsonville was going to be one and two,” Salazar said. “I was happy with that. I feel good. That’s my fourth 800 league title. It’s a nice way to wrap up my season.”
Salazar isn’t done yet. Not by a long shot, she hopes.
Watsonville’s stellar runner will return to Gilroy for next week’s MBL Masters Meet, which serves as the league’s Central Coast Section qualifier.
The league’s top athletes will reconvene on May 11 at 5 p.m.
Salazar last season was the MBL’s top 800 runner and finished sixth at CCS in the event.
“I’m just trying to place, trying to make it to the next round, get some rest and stay healthy,” Salazar said.
San Benito High beat Notre Dame-Salinas, 154-139, for the Gabilan division crown. North Monterey County High (76) took third behind the brilliance of seniors Sarah Delgado and Jocelyn Cazarez.
Delgado rebounded from her fourth-place finish in the 1,600 (5:36.95) and clawed her way to a championship in the 800.
The Condors’ top distance runner dropped into last after tripping in the starting-line scrum, but gritted her teeth, closed her eyes and sprinted past a pair of competitors over the final 150 meters to win with a time of 2:27.16.
“The plan was just to sit and kick,” Delgado said. “I just stuck with them. I saw the top girls separate from the pack and I just said, ‘I have to go.’”
Cazarez entered Friday’s meet as the easy favorite in both the discus and shot put, and she lived up to the billing. She recorded winning throws of 113-10 and 35-6.25, respectively.
“There’s good days and bad days,” Cazarez said. “Today was a good day, but I wanted to throw farther.”
She’ll have another chance to do just that next week.
N.M.C. sophomore Evelyn Orozco (400, 1:01.83), junior Faith Mora (3,200, 12:04.01), senior Alexus Espino (high jump, 4-6) and the Condors’ 4×400 (4:16.16) will also have another opportunity to improve.
Monte Vista Christian sophomore Delaney Ezeji-Okoye repeated as the Pacific division champion in the pole vault by clearing 10-0.
Pajaro Valley sophomore Katelyn Strader won the Pacific division title in the high jump (4-6), and the Grizzlies’ 4×100 relay of Emma Arroyo, Jayleen Solorzano Alexandra Romero and Caitlan Paat set the school record at 54.8.
M.V.C.’s Faith Jimenez placed second in the 100 hurdles (17.83) to advance to the Masters Meet.