Denicia Gills and the Santa Ynez Pirates softball team didn’t taste their first victory together until the season opener against St. Joseph — an 11-1 romp on Feb. 28.
And that ended two years of going winless on the diamond for SYHS, but started a renaissance for Pirates softball.
Since then, the once moribund softball program off of East Highway 246 is now making a deep playoff run in Gills’ third season at the helm — and the young Pirates are carrying the 805 region on their back in these CIF Southern Section softball playoffs.
The 18-7 Pirates are the lone survivor from the North Santa Barbara County region in the softball postseason, and they’ll return home to host Anaheim Cornelia Connelly in their Thursday Division 7 quarterfinals showdown.
Before the P.E. teacher at Santa Ynez Valley Charter School grabbed full reins of the Pirates’ softball program, plus long before the Pirates became a playoff powered team, Santa Ynez High’s best season on the softball diamond came in the 2011 season when former coach Gretchen Savidan got SYHS to finish one game above .500 at 13-12-1 overall.
But now, the enthusiasm is building for Pirates softball like a brand new construction site — and Gills has been the main architect behind the building blocks of success and energy.
She’s won with a relatively young group. Of the 12 players on the SYHS roster, only one is a senior in first baseman Anastazia Garcia, who is one of team’s consistent sluggers at the bat.
Accompanying Anastazia Garcia is a nine-deep lineup comprising of underclassmen — from sophomore catcher and home run leader Maggie Usher (three home run blasts), to shortstop Yesenia Vega and lastly, Garcia’s younger sister and the Pirates’ top pitching ace Armani.
The freshman Vega has a .468 batting average through 24 games to lead the team. Mykenzie Ramirez is another star freshman with her .391 average and team-high nine doubles. Anastazia Garcia is tops in RBIs with 29 while her sister Armani has 14 victories and 139 strikeouts on the mound.
The task lying ahead won’t be easy for the Pirates once 3:15 p.m. rolls around. The Koalas out of the Express League in Orange County will enter the SYHS diamond without a loss (18-0, 10-0 in league play). Like the Pirates, the Koalas also experienced softball life needing to be rehabilitated through a new regime.
It was in 2012 when Jason Manley took over the program and mustered just two victories. But since then, Connelly has become a team that reaches double digits in the win category — with this season becoming the best output he’s had.
The winning team will face the victorious one in the Simi Valley Grace Brethren/Santa Rosa Academy contest that’s also set for Thursday. That semifinals matchup is set for May 30 at 3:15 p.m.