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Vanessa Hernandez waited four years to compete in the playoffs. When she finally got her chance, Hernandez made quite an impact.
Hernandez crushed three home runs and collected eight RBIs as Hesperia beat Palm Desert 14-7 in a CIF-Southern Section Division 4 wild-card game.
It was the type of performance her team was counting on entering Hernandez’s junior season last year. But injuries to both knees prevented her from participating.
“It was really heartbreaking not getting to play junior year, especially in the playoffs, just because we were such an amazing team,” Hernandez said. “We had Macie (Christian) and Gabby (Vera). Not being able to contribute and lose by one (to Santa Monica in the playoffs) and not being able to play was heartbreaking. But coming back and playing senior year was really cool.”
After strengthening her knees in the offseason and wearing knee braces for support, Hernandez came back for a heck of a senior season. She won the Mojave River League triple crown and helped Hesperia beat out Sultana for the final league playoff berth.
She finished her senior season with a .600 batting average, a .647 on-base percentage, a 1.009 slugging percentage, nine home runs, 13 doubles, 31 RBIs and 38 runs scored. Hernandez also finished the season on a 20-game hitting streak and struck out just once.
Prior to the season, she signed a national letter of intent to play softball at Fresno State. Her play this season earned Hernandez the MRL Player of the Year award. Now she’s the 2014 Daily Press Softball Athlete of the Year.
“What made Vanessa unique, the reason why she’s going to college to play, is that Vanessa has power to right-center,” Hesperia coach Pat Brooksher said. “Her main power is to right-center. Other teams don’t realize that until they pitch her outside.”
In October of 2012, Hernandez’s left knee collapsed while she was shagging balls in a workout.
Through an MRI, the doctor determined Hernandez tore a ligament, but in surgery nothing was found. She rehabbed for a few months and came back wearing a knee brace. Then her right knee collapsed when she swung at a pitch during a nonleague game.
This time an MRI showed no tear, but the doctors diagnosed her with loose ligaments in her knee.
Hernandez tried to come back prior to the playoffs, but she injured her left knee once again and sat out the rest of the season.
For six months, Hernandez worked with her trainer at EM Speed & Power Training to build muscle around her knees and gain back the trust that she could run without fear of re-injuring them. She wears braces on both knees, but Hernandez said she’s gained that trust to go as hard as she did her first two prep seasons.
“Now I don’t even think about it,” Hernandez said.
She swung for the fences her first two prep seasons, but she said the injury gave her a different perspective.
“It slowed my game down, and I figured out how to wait for the good pitches,” Hernandez said. “I got my batting average way up, and I think that’s a key I need to keep with me until I go to college because I think batting average and contributing to the team is more important than just the home runs. I’m glad I figured that out, especially after I got hurt.”
When Hesperia is running sprints or doing mile workouts, Brooksher said Hernandez always has to finish first. She would also come back to field with her father Bobby for more reps, and hit off a tee and run in her garage. Often during her four years, she drove Down the Hill for weight training, hitting lessons and practice with her travel ball team the OC Batbusters, who finished second at the Premier Girls Fastpitch national championship last year.
“She’s the hardest working kid on the team,” Brooksher said. “She’s probably the hardest working kid I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a couple D1 players. She outworks all of them.”
That stems from a fear.
“I don’t want to be the person that if there’s a runner on third and we’re down one, I don’t want to be the person who messes up, that doesn’t score the run,” Hernandez said. “That’s the most terrifying thing to me. I’ve been in that situation a couple times of course, but I just never want to be that person.”
Hernandez now heads to a Fresno State team that finished second in the Mountain West Conference. She was recruited to play in the outfield, where she plays with her travel ball team.
“I think she’ll come in and compete for a spot,” Fresno State head coach Trisha Ford said. “Vanessa, I foresee her being in the lineup.”
Hernandez’s goal is to leave a mark in Fresno. From her body of work at Hesperia, there’s no doubt that she can accomplish that.
2014 DAILY PRESS ALL-AREA SOFTBALL TEAM
GRAYSON HARVEY, SR., APPLE VALLEY
In a pitching tandem, Harvey got the ball in big games for the Sun Devils. She came through, earning the Mojave River League Pitcher of the Year award and helped her team to the outright league title. Harvey finished the regular season 10-6 with a 2.43 ERA, 127 strikeouts, 24 walks in 92 innings.
ANISSA LOPEZ, SO., UNIVERSITY PREP
Lopez tossed three shutouts in the postseason to help carry the Jaguars to a second-place finish in CIF-Southern Section Division 7. Lopez went 17-5 with a 1.15 ERA, 156 strikeouts and 34 walks in 122 innings. She also could hit, finishing with a .545 AVG, .596 OBP, .965 SLG, 43 RBIs, nine HRs and 10 doubles.
CHLOE ROMERO, FR., ACADEMY OF CAREERS AND EXPLORATION
Romero’s arm and bat were key parts of the Eagles’ run to a CIF-SS Division 7 championship this year, and she received the Division’s Player of the Year honor. She went 18-1 with a 1.17 ERA , eight shutouts 200 strikeouts and 13 walks. At the plate, Romero led the Southern Section in runs scored at 57 and finished with a .475 batting average, a .557 on-base percentage, an .831 slugging percentage and 44 RBIs.
RAQUEL DOMINGUEZ, FR., SILVERADO
While only a freshman, Dominguez’s bat bulked up a deep and young Hawks’ lineup. She hit .519 with a .564 OBP, a .691 SLG, 32 RBIs, 25 runs scored and 14 doubles.
JEANNETTE ROLDAN, SR., OAK HILLS
Roldan, who mostly played first base in her first three years at Oak Hills, showed off her versatility by playing in the outfield and getting some reps at shortstop. She hit .482 with a .515 OBP, a .741 SLG, 30 RBIs, 34 runs scored, 10 doubles and four HRs.
DANI ROZHON, JR., APPLE VALLEY
As the Sun Devils’ leadoff hitter, Rozhon got the MRL champions going offensively. Rozhon hit .412 with a .490 OBP, a .650 SLG, 13 extra-base hits, 19 runs and 13 RBIs.
SYDNEY RASMUSSEN, JR., SERRANO
Rasmussen was a bright spot in the Diamondbacks’ lineup, and she had to fill in at pitcher during league season. She hit .507 with a .614 OBP, a .826 SLG, 32 runs, 13 RBIs, four doubles, four HRs and three triples.
RANDI DOMINGUEZ, SR., SILVERADO
The Desert Sky League MVP led Div. 5 — and ranked seventh in the entire Southern Section, according to maxpreps.com — in RBIs with 50 to lead the Hawks to a league title and their second straight appearance in the quarterfinals. Dominguez also hit .580 with a .610 OBP, an .897 SLG, 17 extra-base hits and 33 runs scored.
TONI NINO, SR., SILVERADO
As the Hawks’ leadoff hitter, Nino — who is committed to Rider University — lead Div. 5 in runs scored at 52 and stolen bases at 47, according to maxpreps.com. She ended up with a .515 BA, a. 561 OBP, a .577 SLG., and 20 RBIs.
JORDAN NEAL, JR., BARSTOW
Neal proved to be the Aztecs’ most potent hitter. She batted .489 with a .539 OBP, an .880 SLG, 39 runs scored, 27 RBIs, 25 stolen bases, seven home runs and 19 extra-base hits.
JASMINE HIGA, JR., APPLE VALLEY
The Sun Devils’ center fielder helped prevent runs with her glove and hit .354 with a .384 OBP, a .524 SLG, two home runs, 21 runs scored and 17 RBIs.
VANESSA MURO, JR., OAK HILLS
Muro showed her ability to play just about any position on the field as she made appearances in the outfield, first base, third base and in the circle for the Bulldogs. She also hit a team-leading .521, with a .585 OBP, a .746 SLG, 23 runs scored, 19 RBIs and 11 extra-base hits.
COACH OF THE YEAR
TRACY DAVIS, ACADEMY OF CAREERS AND EXPLORATION
Davis’ team had only won one playoff game prior to this season. This year, the Eagles finished the season on a 22-game wining streak and ended up with a 26-1 record as they captured the CIF-SS Div. 7 championship with a win over rival University Prep. ACE also won its first Cross Valley League title.
HONORABLE MENTION (ALPHABETICAL BY SCHOOL)
Diamond Rios, Victoria Edwards (Apple Valley); Coreena Moreno, Adrianna Romero (Hesperia); Jacalyn Edwards, Josie Mora (Oak Hills); Makayla Alvarez (Silverado); Belle Placencia, Melissa Thompson (Sultana); Justice Borden, Domo Stewart (University Prep); Chica Bati (Victor Valley).
C.J. Daft can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 760-951-6275.