The article below originally appeared on MercuryNews.com and is being reprinted with permission.
Lauren Berriatua reinvented herself over the past 12 months.
The sophomore out of Notre Dame-Belmont was more than adequate in the circle last year, when College of San Mateo booked a return trip to softball’s state championships in Bakersfield College.
But she wasn’t the No. 1 option for CSM, instead getting the call in relief of back-to-back losses in the double-elimination tournament.
“I think that she really had — she has — a chip on her shoulder,” CSM coach Nicole Borg said. “And she wanted to be the one last year to get it done.”
Now it’s her turn.
The 21-year-old will step into the circle Friday as the undefeated Bulldogs (40-0) make a third straight appearance at the state final four, this time looking to return with the trophy for the first time in program history.
“It’s crazy how far we’ve come and still have a zero at the end of our record,” Berriatua said. “But it’s amazing all the work we’ve put in and how we were able to pull out 40 games and win them all. You kind of forget what it feels like losing, but I love the feeling of winning. And if we can keep that up, it’s great.”
CSM needs three more wins to complete an unblemished campaign.
Along the way, Berriatua amassed a 26-0 record with an 0.85 ERA that leads the state. While fanning 171 hitters over 149 innings, the 5-foot-9 righty scattered 80 hits and 29 walks.
“It’s a totally different person,” Borg said, comparing her to the freshman version that finished with a 2.80 ERA and struck out 39 over 70 innings.
“Last year I didn’t realize how important your mental game is until I started actually studying it over the summer,” Berriatua said.
She had to get stronger, add velocity, expand her repertoire in the circle. The offerings now include everything from a fastball, to a curve, change-up, rise, drop or offspeed pitch.
“It was a long list of things she had to do — and she did them all,” Borg said. “Great kid and I love coaching her. She’s a gamer. She locates her ball really, really well and she throws every pitch. You can’t ask for much more than that.”
Technically, the coach can.
Berriatua is also the cleanup hitter for the Bulldogs, with a .533 batting average that ranks ninth in the state. Her 22 doubles are tied with the state leader, while Berriatua has slugged seven home runs to produce 50 RBI.
“I just like playing both offense and defense because it helps me stay in the game and stay focused,” Berriatua said. “And I can help myself out if something is going wrong.”
To calm her down, Berriatua relies on her catcher: Leilani Akai.
“We’re the only two looking at each other,” Berriatua said. “She’s looking at me, I’m looking at her.”
The rest are unnecessary distractions she trained to ignore during the offseason.
“When I get out in the circle, I block everything else,” Berriatua said. “It’s not a matter of I have to strike her out, or I have to do this, or I have to get this out. It’s more like I’m going to get it done.
“And if I don’t, then my teammates behind me have my back. … We’re all striving for the same thing, so that’s what makes a team want to be perfect.”
With that attitude, the Bulldogs departed Thursday morning for Bakersfield determined to bring back the hardware on Sunday.
“We know what’s coming up next and what needs to be done,” Berriatua said.
And the task ahead begins with CSM’s ace in the circle.