When it came time to select the Most Value Player award for the 2019 Coast Union High School softball team — winners of the Coast Valley League for the seventh consecutive time — head coach Steve Kniffen said senior Ailyn Casas was the “obvious choice.”
“She is a good a female athlete that our school has seen in a long time,” Kniffen said. “Her eye-hand coordination is as good as I have ever seen... and she goes to the ball better than most.”
Casas, who was Coast Union’s Female Athlete of the Year in 2018, comes from a “lineage of winners,” Kniffen said.
“She is a pleasure to be around, self deprecating, hard-working and mature,” he added.
Casas struck out just seven times in 65 plate appearances; she had a slugging percentage of 1.098 and an on-base percentage of .615. She collected six home runs, five triples, drove in a team-leading 35 runs and led the team with a .510 batting average. She also led the team with eight stolen bases (in eight attempts).
Kniffen gave the Coach’s Award to junior Angelique Gutierrez, not because she loved coming to practice — because initially she didn’t — or because she liked running and stretching; she didn’t.
“What Gutierrez does love to do is throw runners out from her knees on a ball in the dirt,” Kniffen said.
When the team’s starting catcher suffered a concussion, “and we were dead in our tracks, Gutierrez stepped up and did an outstanding job,” he said.
Once Gutierrez “figured out she could dominate on the defensive side... holding base runners in their tracks, she started to work on techniques,” Kniffen said.
At that point “she started to want to practice and she didn’t hate running as much,” and by solidifying the No. 2 spot in the batting order and on the defensive side, it made Kniffen’s job “much easier,” he added. Gutierrez hit a respectable .373 with 10 RBI and scored 23 runs.
The Most Improved award went to sophomore Jasmine Pena, who began the season as a reserve, but after receiving hitting tutelage from assistant coach Ed Ortiz, “She got so good that she went from being the DH in the No. 9 slot to moving up to the No. 5 spot in the order. She can run and pull a ball as well as anyone on the team,” Kniffen said.
After Pena put effort into improving her defense, “she ended up being one of our better outfielders,” he said.
Pena hit .429 with a dozen hits and a dozen RBI in 28 plate appearances.
The Broncos finished the season with a 9-10 record (8-0 in the Coast Valley League) but opted out of participating in the CIF-Southern Section Division 6 playoffs. Kniffen said his team wasn’t willing to practice two weeks beyond the regular season to “get beat up by a team from Los Angeles,” as is often the case for Coast Union’s softball team.