As far as Santa Ynez Valley teenager Maggie Usher is concerned, blending softball and rodeo gives her the best of both worlds.

"I really like the team aspect and the bonding in softball," Usher, who will be a junior at Santa Ynez High School next school year, said at her Santa Ynez Valley home recently.

"I like the fact that rodeo is independent, and I'm very independent."

Usher relishes the many friendships she has developed in both sports.

"A lot of my best friends are in softball, and I have a lot of close friends in rodeo, too," she said.

"I get to see them at (the state competition), then when you go to the nationals you make more friends, from all over."

Besides making a lot of friends in both sports, Maggie Usher, whose team roping partner is her brother Ethan, has been hugely successful in both.

Ethan Usher is a rodeo and baseball standout who will be a senior at Santa Ynez next school year. He qualified for the high school rodeo nationals in .22 caliber light rifle.

As for Maggie, the second baseman hit  .414 for a Santa Ynez team that, following two consecutive 0-19 seasons, made it to the CIF Southern Section Division 7 championship game, where top-ranked Sun Valley Village Christian defeated the Pirates 7-4.   

Before the title game, Santa Ynez out-scored its post-season opposition by a combined 66-10.

Usher led the team in RBIs (34) and home runs (seven). She was second on the squad in batting average and hits (36). She was tied for second in doubles, with 10.

Maggie Usher qualified for the 2017 National High Schools Finals Rodeo in pole bending at the state high school meet at Bishop earlier this month. The national meet will take place July 16-22 in Gillette, Wyoming.

Pole bending is somewhat similar to barrel racing. Competitors attempt to guide their horses around a series of poles, and then their horses sprint to the finish. Competition is by time.

Usher, who started in rodeo when she was very young, won the first go-round at the state rodeo in a time of 20.425 seconds. She also competed in goat tying and breakaway roping at the state rodeo, but did not advance to the national competition in those events.

The teen has an extensive background in softball, too. She started playing travel ball in Gardnerville, Nevada at the age of nine.

As her sophomore year at Santa Ynez approached, Usher thought there was a good chance her softball career was over.

"I considered not going out," she said. "The season before, we didn't have much chemistry, not much unity."

Usher did ultimately attend team tryouts, and she liked what she saw.

"I could see that things were going to be a lot better," she said. "We had new players coming in who helped the team a lot."

Santa Ynez carried five freshmen on its team roster, including standout pitcher Armani Garcia and Yesenia Vega who hit .478, by far the highest average among the team's regulars.  

After seeing her prior two Santa Ynez teams go 0-19 and 0-19, third-year Santa Ynez coach Denicia Gills, with a big boost from assistant coach Bennie Garcia, Armani's father, guided the Pirates to the divisional title game.

"We got off to a really good start (Santa Ynez won its first four games and seven of its first 10)," said Usher. "We just pulled together."

The big post-season run ultimately followed.

"Last year, it was like, 'Oh, yeah. We made it (to the playoffs). We're here," said Usher. "We know what it's like now, and next year we're just going to go after it."

Like her brother, Maggie Usher pulls long hours during the school year, especially during the softball season.

"During the softball season, I'm up at 5 or 6 to feed the horses," she said. "I don't get home from softball practice until 6 or 7. Then it's homework, and I'm taking all honors classes.

"I usually don't eat (dinner) until around 10."

Will it be softball or rodeo for her after high school? Usher doesn't know yet and, with two years of high school left, she figures she has time to decide.

"I would love to do both," she said.

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Sports Reporter