WATSONVILLE — San Benito High head coach Andrew Barragan said losing has made his team stronger in the long run.
Watsonville High head coach Scott Wilson is hoping the same will happen for his squad.
The Wildcatz fell from the ranks of the unbeaten on Tuesday evening in a frustrating 2-1 Monterey Bay League Gabilan division loss to the visiting Haybalers.
In a battle between the defending league champ and last year’s runner-up, San Benito (7-9, 3-1) proved it still had Watsonville’s (10-1, 3-1) number thanks to a scrappy performance from senior pitcher Amanda Moisa and a pair of solo shots from senior outfielders Noel Chavarria and Maddie Greco.
“This one hurts,” said Watsonville junior first baseman Emily Ornelas. “We really wanted to win this one.”
Chavarria gave San Benito a 1-run lead in the fourth, Moisa escaped several jams over the final five innings and Greco poked the eventual game-winning homer over the short right-field fence in the top of the seventh.
Watsonville had the game-winning run on first base with one out in the home seventh, but Moisa struck out the final two batters to end the Wildcatz’s 15-game winning streak, which dates back to last year’s run to the program’s first-ever Central Coast Section championship.
“It’s a big win for us,” Barragan said. “We’re just hoping to get right back in the saddle again and start moving some stuff around in league.”
For the first time all season, Watsonville, which entering Tuesday’s tilt was ranked 30th in the state and second in the CCS by MaxPreps, looked human. The defending CCS Division I champs had won their first three MBL-G games by a combined score of 20-1. That included a 7-0 win over Gilroy High, a team that stunned San Benito at home earlier this season.
With a chance to take an early commanding lead in the league-title race, Watsonville’s bats fell silent in key moments. The Wildcatz stranded a pair of runners in four of the last five innings.
Ornelas knocked in Watsonville’s lone run in the fourth with an RBI single, but the Black and Gold could not reward junior pitcher Jessica Rodriguez, who, aside from the two homers, tossed a solid game.
Rodriguez, the MBL-G's Pitcher of the Year last season who paced the CCS in strikeouts, allowed only six hits and walked none. She struck out nine batters.
“Things that we know how to do, we didn’t do,” Wilson said. “As a coaching staff, we didn’t prepare them for something like this.”
Moisa, still working her way back from offseason shoulder surgery, painted the outside from start to finish, and widened the umpire’s strike zone as the game went on. Several times, Watsonville hitters looked over helplessly to Wilson at third base and shrugged their shoulders.
Still, the Wildcatz managed to connect with Moisa's off-speed tosses.
They tallied 12 hits.
Senior third baseman Zaira Pena went 4-for-4.
Ornelas was 2-for-3 with an RBI, which scored freshman outfielder Maya Guerrero.
Sophomore outfielder Angelina Heredia smacked a double.
“We really struggled with the outside pitch today,” Wilson said. “I don’t want to take away anything from their pitcher, but we haven’t seen a strike zone like that all season long. It makes it a little bit difficult, but it’s one of those things that us, as a coaching staff, are going to have to work with and help our hitters.”
While Watsonville started the season perfectly, San Benito did the exact opposite. The ‘Balers lost their first six games against some of the best teams in the state, including Clovis High, which is ranked 36th in the country by MaxPreps.
Barragan said the winless start ultimately helped his team prepare for what the MBL-G had to offer. Tuesday’s win was proof of their progression, he said.
“I put that schedule together to be ready for league and be ready for the playoffs,” Barragan said. “My goal was to get in front of a pitcher that we wouldn’t face in league. We’ve had some top tier pitchers throw against us. That’s what’s helping us right now. They believe.”
Wilson said he hopes the loss will serve as a refocusing jolt — for both players and coaches — going forward.
Watsonville plays in its own tournament on Saturday before returning to MBL-G action on Tuesday at home against Salinas High at 4:30 p.m.
“Sometimes you get into a rhythm, into a groove and you don’t really see some of the faults that we have,” Wilson said. “As coaches, we have to identify that.”