WATSONVILLE — The last time the Watsonville Wildcatz reached the Central Coast Section Playoffs coach James Gomez was a junior and sported the black and gold jersey.
Now Gomez sits in the dugout and gives sagely advice to an extremely young Watsonville team.
Despite the youth of this year’s Wildcatz, having only two seniors on the team, they have made it to the big show, and will get a chance to show what they have when they travel to Palo Alto on Wednesday.
After finishing in second place in the Monterey Bay League Pacific with a 12-6 league record, they were given the 12 seed in the playoffs, and although they’re going up against a powerhouse in the five seeded Vikings, Gomez still believes that they have a chance.
“Each time that Bubba (Chris Rivera) gets on the hill we have a chance to win,” Gomez said. “If he throws well, and we find some runs then we have a chance. All we want to do is hang around and pull the upset. You see it every year in the NCAA tournament, we’re hoping we can have the same kind of result.”
Rivera, or Bubba, as his family and teammates know him, has been solid all year for the Wildcatz. He finished league play with a 1.10 earned run average through nine starts as just a sophomore. Freshmen Canek Gomez and David Ortiz have also hit the mound for the Wildcatz this season. As a group, their ERA was less than two runs for the year. Again, despite the youth, Rivera understands the responsibility he has: to pitch well on Wednesday.
“You have to be a chameleon out there,” said Rivera. “You have to be able to adjust and change your pitches. Especially against these tougher teams.”
But for the Catz to move on from the first round, they’ll have to score some runs. Something that in the past few games, they have improved on. They ended their season on a six game winning streak and have averaged eight runs per game in that stretch.
“It’s a big help now that we’re hot,” said James Duran, one of the two seniors on the team. “It’s not just the top of the lineup anymore, it’s everybody. We need teamwork and execution to win on Wednesday.”
Duran has been one of the solid hitters for the Wildcatz this season. He finished the year with a .340 batting average. The Watsonville catcher has been on the team since his freshman year, and has gone through three seasons of losing records.
“Skill wise we we’re good,” said Duran, “but we weren’t together as a team. We’re just a lot more organized and focused on every game than we have been before. We’re just a closer group too.”
According to Gomez that team unity didn’t come until mid-way through the season.
“I think that’s been one of the biggest difference from this year’s team and others,” said Gomez. “They just get along really well. I think it helps that they hang around with each other outside of the field. At the beginning of the year it wasn’t like that, but we really preached to them that it’s a team game, and your stats don’t mean anything unless you get the win. They’ve really bought in to that, and it’s made a big difference in the second half of the season.”
While the future is bright for the Catz in the coming seasons, first things first, finishing off this year on a positive note.
“It’s a little bitter sweet to know this is my final year with these guys,” said Gomez, “but I just have to make the most of it right now.”
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