The article below originally appeared on MercuryNews.com and is being reprinted with permission.
Ashlynne Neil and Raquel Martinez sat in the first-base dugout at College of San Mateo during last year’s state playoffs. But they weren’t wearing CSM uniforms.
Both were members of the Feather River College team before transferring to CSM.
“That experience of being down here is part of the reason why we chose to transfer,” Neil said. “You can tell there is something special about this program.”
CSM coach Nicole Borg welcomed them with open arms and it’s easy to see why: Neil is the pitcher of the year in the Coast Conference and Martinez is the player of the year.
“Obviously it’s been a pleasant surprise having both of them,” Borg said. “And looking from what Ashlynne did last year as opposed to what she did this year, I think it’s night and day.”
Lynn is the ace of the Bulldogs (37-2), the top-ranked team in Northern California. The sophomore went 20-1 with a 2.17 ERA, allowing one home run in over 120 innings in the circle. Last year at Feather River in Quincy, a mountain town northeast of Chico, she had a 3.50 ERA and allowed 11 home runs in fewer than 100 innings.
Neil links her renaissance to working closely with Borg.
“She just expects the best out of everybody,” Neil said. “She’s not really ever really satisfied with what we do. She’ll give you a pat on the back when you do something good, but she’s looking for you to be even better. And, honestly, if it wasn’t for her being that was towards me, I wouldn’t be where I’m at.”
Martinez is a redshirt freshman who roams center field, bats leadoff and wreaks havoc with her speed. During the regular season she led the team with a .525 batting average, 53 runs and 32 steals. She was caught stealing once.
“My job is basically get on any way possible,” Martinez said. “My legs are my ticket here.”
“If Rocky gets on base, she’s most likely gonna score,” Neil said.
The offense has clubbed 49 home runs, with Brooke Ramsey and Natalie Saucedo each accounting for 11.
But the Bulldogs, who hit .418 as a team, don’t just rely on the long ball. They will scratch and claw for runs any way possible.
“Seeing the fight that everybody has is really amazing,” Martinez said. “You look at us and you just see a bunch of scrappy little kids, but we get it done.”
That’s evident from watching the dugout, where it’s rare to see anyone taking a seat.
“You have to be knocked out or injured or something,” Martinez said.
“Game time is a totally different atmosphere,” Neil said. “Everybody is really energized. We have like a million different cheers that we do, that we have developed throughout the season, which makes it fun.”
The roommates were instrumental during a school-record 26-game winning streak, but Borg is sort of glad the team lost on April 2 at home.
It proved to their coach that the Bulldogs are mentally tough enough to succeed.
“It truly didn’t seem to bother them at all,” Borg said. “Obviously they were not happy that they lost, but the next day they came out and played like they know how to play.”
The loss was the only one at home in two years for CSM, which hosts a best-of-three series in the first round of the playoffs this weekend against Yuba College.
The Bulldogs will play at home for the entirety of the NorCal playoffs.
“It just adds a little fuel to the fire for the team,” Martinez said. “It’s like it’s our house and no one is going to come here and walk all over us.”
CSM reached the state championships last season and from the beginning the expectations included a return trip to Bakersfield. That means anything but a run through next week’s Super Regional will be considered a failure.
“Obviously if you flop in the playoffs, what does that 37 and 2 mean?” Borg asked. “So, yeah, the expectation is high and the pressure is on.”
“These are the games that really matter,” Neil said. “So all of our hard work kind of has been leading up to this point, so it’s really exciting.”
Word of caution, though. The Bulldogs know not to get ahead of themselves.
“Right now we’ve reiterated our mindset, where really you can’t lose track of taking it one game at a time,” Martinez said. “If we keep thinking, ‘Oh, it’s given, we’re going to be there,’ it’s going to slip away.”
Neil and Martinez are joined on the all-state team by Ramsey, Saucedo, Talisa Fiame and Kayleen Smith. CSM also has one all-NorCal selection Skania Lemus, while Ashley Miller (Woodside), Lauren Berriatua (Notre Dame-Belmont), Melina Rodriguez, Leilani Akai and Taylor Cruse were also named all-Coast Conference.
“It’s definitely a nice pat on the back,” Martinez said. “Especially when you’re grinding it out every day.”
“I think it really just validates that working hard can get you where you want to be,” said Neil, who last year at Feather River wasn’t even named to the second team in the Golden Valley Conference.
Accolades are nothing to complain about, but CSM is not focused on awards.
“It’s not a team statistic,” Borg said. “Wins and losses, that’s all that matters right now.”