It didn’t take long for Armani Garcia, only a freshman, to not only pick up the speed of varsity softball, but establish herself as the cornerstone pitcher behind Santa Ynez softball’s renaissance.
Before her arrival, the Pirates were once a program that endured back-to-back winless seasons. But Garcia kept batters in check with her right arm and swung with precision and consistency at the bat – helping turn a once down-and-out program into the CIF Southern Section Division 7 runner-up this past season. Her dominance inside the circle and her dexterity at the bat has led to Garcia receiving the 2017 Most Valuable Player nod by Lee Central Coast News.
The soft-spoken Garcia said that while she’s thankful to be recognized as the MVP, she’s glad she got to share her monumental high school debut with her teammates and coaches.
“I’m glad I got to play with these girls,” Garcia said. “We all worked hard for everything. And if it weren’t for the coaching, we wouldn’t be where we are.”
Garcia struck out 152 batters inside the circle – 21 during the postseason – while finishing the year at 14-4 overall. She was equally impressive with the bat, as she compiled a .337 batting average with 28 hits and 19 RBIs.
And she put up those numbers for a team that put together a memorable 20-8 overall mark and CIF title game run, before falling to traditional softball power Sun Valley Village Christian 7-4 in Irvine with the section’s D7 title on the line.
Still, Garcia is already aware that she helped change the culture and fortunes of this once struggling softball team.
“This school’s softball team is usually not known for winning many games,” Garcia said. “But this year, with winning the games and being able to get as far as we did was a great experience for me.”
She also got a chance to share these profound moments with her older sister Anastazia, who was lauded for her leadership and batting while the younger sibling led the pitching charge.
“I’ve been watching her play since I was 3. Playing with her was a big deal,” Armani Garcia said.
Head coach Denecia Gills approved of the LCCN MVP recognition for her rising freshman, saying “I couldn’t be more excited for her. That girl worked harder than anybody I know. She absolutely deserves it.”
Gills – who was inside the SYHS dugout during the time the Pirates went 0-38 – added that she was in awe with how quickly Garcia matured on the varsity roster.
“She was able to hold her own through the craziness of being a freshman,” Gills said. “She had a great defense behind her, which allowed her to have the confidence to throw the pitches she did. I’m very much looking forward to having her the next few years.”
Not only did Garcia have some backing from Gills and her older sibling, but her father Benny was also instrumental in her development this past season – while serving as Gills’ top assistant.
“Having her sister there was huge because it was kind of a comfort zone. But having her dad as a coach was also another huge asset,” Gills said. “She’s played for him for a long time and gone to nationals and done well. She’s been in high pressure situations. This (season) was kind of an extension of that.”
Gills not only gets Garcia back for next year, but both will plan to work together in helping build SYHS softball between now and 2020, which is Garcia’s graduating year.
Garcia knows that more lofty expectations are on the horizon, after winning the area MVP and making the title game pursuit with just one senior on the roster. She knows the bar is officially set higher for next year.
“We have to work harder than we did. Just because we made it one time doesn’t mean we’ll make it again. We have to work harder,” Garcia said.