WATSONVILLE—The winds that normally blow into the Watsonville High School softball field are typically known for knocking down deep fly balls destined to become home runs. Blocked by an invisible “Green Monster” of Fenway Park, so to speak.
But the Swingin’ Wildcatz have found a way to overcome that hidden barrier.
Junior Marissa Martinez blasted a two-run shot that helped Watsonville shift the momentum and beat St. Francis High, 4-3, in a battle of two of the Pajaro Valley’s top teams on April 29.
With the win, the ‘Catz improved to 7-0 on the season and remained atop the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League standings.
Martinez, who picked up her fourth win as the starting pitcher, said they were still riding the energy from Tuesday’s big win against Soquel High, a traditional SCCAL power that is challenging Watsonville for the right to be the top team in the county in this pandemic-shorted season. She also mentioned it felt like a small reunion for her as she got to play against some of her former teammates from years past.
“It was a really exciting game,” she said.
St. Francis coach Adam Noto said the Sharks, who came into Thursday’s game with 10 players on the roster, are not the doormat of the league anymore. He truly believes they have made a name for themselves in recent years.
“These schools are starting to realize that we can compete with the best team,” he said.
St. Francis junior starting pitcher Alicia Mendez recorded only one strikeout in six innings of work, but held the potent Watsonville lineup in check for most of the day. She allowed only seven hits and walked four batters.
St. Francis took an early 2-0 lead in the top of the second inning on sophomore Brisea Raygoza’s single.
Martinez tied the game at 2-2 with her 2-run blast in the bottom of the third inning, giving the Wildcatz the momentum shifter they needed to get back in the game.
“It was definitely a turn of the tide with that home run and it pumped energy into the dugout,” Watsonville High coach Scott Wilson said.
The cheers from Watsonville’s dugout got louder when it took its first lead in the bottom of the fourth. Tea Villalta, a senior, drove in sophomore Abreanna Alba with an RBI single.
Yaviana Prado, a junior, had a clutch moment of her own with a solo shot that sped through the winds and over the right field wall. Her second home run of the season extended the lead to 4-2.
St. Francis threatened to take the game into extra innings with runners on first and third base in the top of the seventh. Mariah Montalvo did her part by picking up the sacrifice fly to drive in senior Audrey Hernandez.
But the Wildcatz’s defense caught freshman Breanna Padilla off guard as she was tagged out at third base.
Watsonville senior Anastacia Alba, who is committed to Chico State University, connected with her sister, Abreanna, for the final out of the game.
“I put a lot of trust in my defense,” Martinez said. “I just know if I put the ball in play, they’ll back me up.”
It was the second straight game that the Wildcatz found themselves in an early hole. On Tuesday, junior infielder Rylee Gomez hit a 3-run home run against the Knights to capture the lead in the fifth inning, giving them the momentum they needed for a 7-4 victory.
Wilson mentioned they were able to take back the momentum a lot earlier on Thursday but things could’ve still turned around on them at any point in the game.
“I want to be able to figure it out and get on in the first inning,” he said. “But it’s a process that they go through and something that they have to figure out.”
Martinez said that her change-up pitch felt a bit off Thursday, at times feeling like she was throwing the ball all over the plate. But she managed to shake it off and began throwing the ball a lot more inside.
“I normally throw a lot of curves and drops during travel [softball], so throwing screws in high school is pretty fun,” she said.
Martinez also showed some patience at the plate as she waited for the low pitch.
Montalvo, a junior, batted 1-for-2 and recorded an RBI. Raygoza batted 1-for-3 with two RBIs and junior Sabrina Noto batted 2-for-3 with a run scored for the Sharks, who play at Monte Vista Christian (2-3) on Saturday at 1pm.
Noto said they weren’t able to end Watsonville’s win streak, but the Sharks know that they can compete at that same level on any given day.
“We didn’t lose this game, the confidence that these girls got going into the next game was huge,” he said.
The Wildcatz will attempt to keep their win streak alive in a showdown at Aptos High (5-2) on Saturday at 1pm.
“We just have to keep going and do the same thing,” Martinez said. “Just practicing, working hard…Coach Scott [Wilson] said he doesn’t need a superhero, he just needs people who can get the job done.”