San Francisco State outfielder Brylynn Vallejos goes from first to second. (Courtesy / San Francisco State Athletics)

SF State softball heads to playoffs for first time since 2006

The Golden Gators are headed to the playoffs thanks to a speedy, high-pressure style

When Alicia Reid was first hired as San Francisco State’s head softball coach in June of 2017, she had to replace an entire 2018 recruiting class. She had already completed the 2018 class for her previous employer — Humboldt State — so she was already behind schedule.

Hired on a Monday, she was out recruiting that Saturday, and she didn’t even have school gear. After buying school-branded clothing at the school book store, Reid went about assembling her class centered around an overlooked late bloomer, Brylynn Vallejos, the lone holdover. That class makes up half of the current Gators softball team, and early in the season, it showed. They lost their first six conference games, including a pair of doubleheaders at No. 7 Chico State.

Since then, though, the class has matured. San Francisco State went on to win 35 of their next 47 games, Vallejos has become a finalist for the Division II Player of the Year award and on Monday morning, San Francisco State learned that it would be heading to the NCAA Division II softball touranment for the first time since 2006.

“We are a much different team now going into the postseason than we were that first conference weekend at Chico,” Reid said.

San Francisco State (38-18, 26-13 in CCAA) will face Western Oregon at 11 a.m. on Thursday in Irvine in a rematch of the early-season Tournament of Champions, where the Wolves beat the Gators, 4-2, as part of a 2-3 weekend for San Francisco State. After that tournament, the Gators won 16 of the final 17 games of the regular season.

The Gators enter the NCAA West Regional — a three-day, double-elimination format — as the West Region’s No. 4 seed. Concordia – Irvine, the No. 1 team in the West and No. 10 in the NCAA, will host, and will face Concordia – Portland on Thursday at 1:30 p.m.

“It’s very exciting to have taken over the program just last year, and bring in a bunch of very talented freshmen, along with the returners that we already had, and take that next step into postseason,” said Reid, who guided the Gators to a 24-31 record in her first season in 2018, the most wins by a first-year head coach in program history. “It’s uncharted waters for all of these players, and a very exciting start for San Francisco State softball.”

Reid herself is no stranger to the postseason. During five seasons as assistant coach of the Lumberjacks, she made three trips to the NCAA Division II Softball Championships, including back-to-back trips in 2016 and 2017, making a finals appearance in 2016.

She brought a high-pressure, speed-based offense to the City, and this season, San Francisco State is hitting .325, tops in the CCAA and 28th-best in the nation. San Francisco State also leads the conference in on-base percentage at a .405 clip and are averaging 5.84 runs a game. The Gators have also set a new program record for hits in a season with 506, and tied the program record for stolen bases (125 in 159 attempts) set in Reid’s first season, leading the conference in the category. The second-place team has 77.

“We definitely hit for average and more gap-to-gap, but we’re aggressive,” Reid said. “We’re going to put pressure on the defense to make plays, and with stealing bases, with squeezing, for us, we’re going to be just as aggressive defensively. We consistently got lead runners in bunt situation. Our pitchers we expect tot be able to go to second or third in a bunt, as well, and that’s something you have to practice and work on, day in and day out, to get them out of their routines of just being content with getting the runner at one.”

Vallejos — who had no other offers coming out of Reno (Nev.) Damonte Ranch — has bloomed into one of the most dynamic players in the CCAA. The conference’s Freshman of the Year leads the league with a .459 batting average — 17th in the country — and this past weekend in the conference tournament, she set a new program record for doubles in a season with 18. She also owns the program record for runs with 54 and hits with 94, which is currently the third most in the nation.

She stole just 20 bases in 21 attempts in her entire high school career, but because of Reid’s high-pressure offense, she’s swiped 32 in just her freshman season with the Gators. Vallejos was named to the All-CCAA First Team, while junior Michelle Castro and freshman Nina Revoir earned Second-Team honors. Castro is hitting .337 this season and is fourth in the conference with 63 hits, both of which are career bests for the junior. Revoir is one of just two freshmen on the All-CCAA Second Team and is clubbing .331 with 55 hits and 35 batted in.

“We’re still perfecting some things,” Vallejos said.

Winning their final eight games of the regular season, the Gators made their first CCAA Tournament since 2007, and even dealt No. 13 UC San Diego a 3-0 defeat — their fifth win over a ranked team this season — to eliminate the Tritons and advance to the semifinals, where they lost 7-3 to Cal State Monterey Bay.

“We were excited to face them again, and show that growth,” Reid said of UC San Diego. “We ended up coming out on top. That gives you great confidence, coming into this week, that you can play with the best of the best.”

Historically, the Gators are 3-0 in NCAA Tournament openers. In 2005, the Gators also opened with a win over Hawaii-Hilo, before making it all the way to the Division II National Championships. Back in 2006, 41-win San Francisco State beat Hawaii-Hilo 3-2, before falling to Cal State Bakersfield and Stanislaus State.

Shortly after the Gators found out they were going dancing, one of the star pitchers from the last playoff team, Sonja Garnett, reached out to Reid. Garnett — formerly the head coach at Academy of Art University in the City — is now the head coach at St. Mary’s in Moraga, but when she played for the Gators, she was an All-American and a three-time CCAA Pitcher of the Year.

“She said congratulations, and said how exciting it was to take the team, and wished us luck,” Reid said. “It’s nice to have that camaraderie with someone who’s still in the game, and knows what postseason is like, and still has a sense of caring and understanding for the current program.”

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