Centerfielder Vanessa Hernández is more than a key hitter/fielder with the 30-21 Fresno State women’s softball team this season.
From her vantage spot, she also provides cheerleading support with constant commentary on her teammates.
Hernández’s fist pumps, shouts and applause for nearly every strike and every out made on defense can be heard from stands of Margie Wright Diamond. Hernández’s jeers, alongside those of the Lady Bulldogs’ fans, surface from the dugout each time a teammate is “beaned” (hit by a pitch) at the plate.
The Fresno State players own the batter’s box, meaning it takes a lot to move away from a wild pitch. So it’s likely the reason Fresno leads the Mountain West Conference in hit by pitches with 66, which is more than double that of Nevada’s 31. Utah, and San Diego State each have 30 hit by pitches.
Hernández, who has a single hit by pitch, said she loves softball, all the fanfare the Bulldogs’ community deliver, and, of course, the camaraderie of her teammates, but, she admits, much of her inspiration came from a sport she has never played.
“The women’s soccer team was playing on TV, and they had won the World Cup. I had no knowledge of the team, but I started watching with my dad (Robert Hernández), and got swallowed in the sport and that team,” said Hernández, a psychology major, and whose favorite player was U.S. women’s all-time leading soccer scorer Abby Wambach (184).
“But, we were never really a soccer family.”
Robert trained Vanessa, whose various nicknames are ‘Necha, ‘Mija,’ ‘Changa,’ and ‘Boo Boo Je,’ which stem from both her Mexican and Filipino heritages.
“I literally responded to these my whole life. I have a bunch (of nicknames). It’s so funny to me,” said Vanessa, the youngest at age 21 among four siblings raised by the former sheriff’s deputy and his wife, Monette Hernández, who played recreational softball. Vanessa is the only athlete in the family to play Division I.
In her senior season at Hisperia High School, Vanessa batted .600 batting with a 1.009 slugging average built on 9 home runs, 31 runs batted in (RBI) and 38 runs scored.
Those numbers brought about numerous collegiate opportunities, as she was courted by softball powerhouse UCLA, Long Beach State, Michigan, Virginia and Oregon, among others.
“I would have been blessed to play at any of those schools. Fresno State was my last visit; I’m not kidding you, we drove (north) on Cedar (Avenue), I looked to my left, I saw the baseball field,” she remembers, “I looked to my right, and my jaw absolutely dropped. It’s such a special place. I’ve not really experienced that in my life.”
She said she simply walked the infield of the famed Margie Wright Diamond.
Vanessa red-shirted her first season at Fresno State on the mend from a knee surgery. She had skipped her junior high school season with a prior left-knee injury, then the right knee was injured.
Yet she’s returned with all her confidence. She holds a .287 batting average with 7 home runs, tying Katie Castellón behind Hayleigh Gálvan, 8, and leader Savannah McHellon’s 13.
“It’s been good to see us grow as a collective. We were the originals that came in 2014. They’re (seniors) absolutely amazing. I still look at them play, especially Katie, they’re all great people, great athletes,” she said.
“We all came in not knowing a clue as to what we were doing.”
Five departing seniors honored in ceremony
Katie Castellón, Brooke Coates, Chase LeeHong, Sarah Santana and Savannah McHellon were honored on Senior Day in a ceremony that included their respective families before the last Sunday’s game.
Prior to the first pitch, the five players were allowed to warmup with their person of choice, as most threw with their dads. Their names were announced with their respective achievements and each given a bouquet of flowers.
Fresno held the top conference spot before dropping all three games to visiting UNLV last weekend. Nevada State defeated San José State yesterday (May 8), which helps Fresno. The Bulldogs need to sweep host Nevada this week and have Boise State lose two games for Fresno to finish atop the Mountain West Conference standings. Fresno State is 6-3 on the road in conference play.