Brianna Lopez was determined to be better.
After helping to lead the Merced College softball team to the postseason for the first time since 2009 last season, the sophomore pitcher wanted to give her squad every chance to make a run at the state tournament.
Having a better understanding of what she needed to do to be successful at the college level, the Delhi alum worked harder and more efficiently. Results followed as an uptick in velocity helped lead an increase in strikeouts. The only thing that didn’t go according to plan was the team’s success.
The She-Devils dropped five of their last eight contests to fall from first place in the Central Valley Conference to missing the playoffs entirely. The one constant during the late-season struggles was Lopez. She struck out 186 batters (fourth best in the state) in 167 2/3 innings pitched while posting a 2.09 ERA (13th in the state) to earn the CVC Most Valuable Pitcher award.
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“I’m sure an argument could be made that the increased in velocity was responsible for the strikeouts, but honestly, I think it was consistency more than anything else,” Lopez said. “I was able to hit my spots over and over. Plus, I did a better job of paying attention. I’d see that this girl couldn’t hit that or this one struggles on pitches outside.
“It’s a real honor, because it means I made an impact on my team. It sucks and hurts that we didn’t make the playoffs, but at least I know I did everything I could to try to get us back there. From last season to this one, I never would have seen this coming. I surprised myself.”
Taft’s Tiana Cantero-Kawelo was named the league MVP and Taft’s Cassidy Bell took home Coach of the Year.
Lopez was one of three She-Devils named to the CVC first team, joined by fellow sophomores Marta Mitchell and Elizabeth Cuevas. Mitchell, who was named to the all-NorCal team a year ago, hit a team-best .382 with a team-high 33 runs scored, two home runs on 24 RBIs. Cuevas was second on MC’s team in average (.372) and RBIs (29) and led the team with five triples.
Arisa Nishibe took home second-team honors for the She-Devils.
Ready to run
The Merced College track and field team has two hurdlers with their eyes on the State Championships.
Daniel Torres and Gali Faris will take their first steps toward achieving that goal, running in the NorCal Trials today at De Anza College. Both will be competing in the 110- and 400-meter hurdles and looking for a top-eight performance to secure their places in the NorCal Finals. The Finals will be held May 11-12, also at De Anza College.
Making a mark
The UC Merced men’s volleyball team had three players named to the NAIA Independent Conference second team after the school turned in its most successful season in program history.
Middle blocker Samuel Hala’ufia, setter Matt Pelfini and Cole Smith were all recognized after outstanding seasons.
Barbee takes the reigns
Mike Barbee has been named the fourth UC Merced men’s and women’s cross country coach in school history.
Barbee has 14 years of coaching experience at the NCAA, junior college and high school levels. He comes to the Bobcats after a couple seasons as an assistant at Florida State. Barbee inherits the program following the death of coach Ryan Nunez in a motorcycle accident near the campus in November 2016.
The men’s program finished second out of eight squads at the California Pacific Conference Championships a year ago, while the women’s team secured a third-place finish.