By, Vince Menon
SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Freshman Breezy Bernard (BB) has made an immediate impact for the Santa Clara University women's softball team, starting at catcher in her first collegiate season. In the midst of a grueling 56 game schedule, SantaClaraBroncos.com (SCB) caught up with the backstop about the team's stunning comeback against LMU, her work with the pitching staff and the plethora of young talent on the roster.
SCB: Regarding your work behind the dish, SCU Head Coach Lisa Mize says: "Breezy calls her own game which is not common, especially her being a freshman. Breezy is a very intelligent catcher behind the plate and works tremendously with our pitching staff."
How is handling the pitching staff? How do you develop a relationship with each pitcher in order to communicate effectively and gain their trust?
BB: Our pitching staff is very diverse this year. We have four very different options that we can go with, and every single one of our pitchers has been very successful on the mound. Throughout the season I have watched their movement, placement, and mental focus improve consistently. I have developed different relationships with each pitcher by taking the time to learn the strengths and weaknesses of their pitches and also their mental approach. Being a pitcher is definitely the most stressful position on the field, so there are points where I go out to the circle to joke around with them and ask them why I just blocked their rise ball.
SCB: In the Pacific Coast Softball Conference (PCSC) opening series, the team spit a four-game set with league-rival LMU, culminating in an incredible 9-7 victory after trailing 7-0 in the sixth inning as Briana Knight went yard twice in the frame. How were you able to pull off such a miraculous comeback, scoring nine runs in the sixth inning? How important was the win?
BB: From the moment the team got on the bus our minds were set on getting some wins. You could just tell that we were ready to give everything we had in those four games to start conference off the right way, and I believe we shocked those in our conference. We're not a team to be taken lightly, and we proved that this last weekend to not only other teams but to ourselves as well.
Coming back with nine runs in the sixth was crazy. It's difficult to explain the feeling in the dugout, but there was no way we were going to let them take another game. The only way we were able to pull that win off was because every player's heart was fully into it and committed.
SCB: On a personal level, this season seems to have been a big success for you so far. Despite being a true freshman, you've established yourself on the team and have solidified your role as the starting backstop. What's been the key to your success? How have you been able to transition so smoothly?
BB: Most of my success has been the result of many years of excellent coaching and training. I wouldn't be the catcher I am today without the effort all of my coaches have put into me. I can honestly say I came into college fully prepared for a softball career because of the way my coaches mentally prepared me. The transition, although overwhelming at first, was everything I wanted. I'm so grateful to be playing at a DI University while also receiving an excellent education.
SCB: You've jumped right in to the middle of the lineup as the number four hitter. Are you comfortable hitting in this spot in the order? What's your mentality hitting cleanup?
BB: I'm definitely comfortable hitting in the four spot. Hitting is all about confidence and being mentally tough at the plate, and so being put in the four spot recently put me in a good mindset as a batter. I knew I would have to be prepared to see a lot of pitches and really focus on finding the one pitch that I could drive. I know any one of our hitters can hit anywhere in the line up and be successful, and it's really nice to have that much confidence in our bats.
What's your approach like at the plate? Do you primarily focus on putting the ball in play or do you have a keen eye that allows you to lay off close pitches and drive the pitch you like?
BB: My mental approach completely depends on the pitcher I am facing. Some pitchers like to get ahead early in the count and so some of the better pitches are seen within the first or second pitch. With those kinds of pitchers I go to the plate knowing that I need to be aggressive early in the at-bat. Other times we'll face junk ball pitchers who like to keep batter off balance and guessing. This is when I go up to bat knowing that I need to be patient and really track the ball. My main focus is making solid contact, and seeing the ball to the bat. That mentality really helps with limiting my strikeouts.
SCB: In the UC Riverside Tournament the team picked up a win over Brown on Saturday, March 24 and narrowly missed adding two more victories in tough one-run losses Friday. What did you learn from these games?
BB: The win against Brown really got us back on track for the weekend. Overall we wish we would have had a better record for the tournament. However, one of our goals this season is to consistently improve game to game, and I believe in the Riverside tournament we accomplished this goal. Each team we face we learn something new that we can bring into our next game, so although we didn't come out with as many wins as we wanted, it still was a successful tournament in terms of preparing for conference.
SCB: You found redemption in the victory over Brown after they had edged you by one run the day before. Was there extra motivation to bounce back and even the score after Friday's result? What was the team vibe like after the win?
BB: Losing by one run is sometimes even more difficult to get over than being beat by ten runs. The fact that we were so close to a win definitely set a fire under us and gave us the motivation to come out hard on Saturday. By the second game we knew their strengths and weaknesses on the field and at bat, so we were able to use that to our advantage and pull out a win on Saturday. The win was one we knew we should have had before, so taking the Saturday game was a momentum-changer for us.
SCB: How has having 13 underclassmen, including eight freshman, influenced the team dynamic? Is there a lot of competition among players to prove themselves and how do the veteran upperclassmen mentor the newcomers and help make them feel comfortable?
BB: We are a very young team this year, but overall I don't think that it has really affected us. When we step on that field we are one team, and it never feels like there's a big age difference. There's always competition on the field, which is a great thing to have because it keeps everyone motivated. The upperclassmen really do stand out when it comes to experience. Watching Briana Knight hit two home runs in one-inning showed not just skill, but also confidence that came from experience. It's nice as a freshman to have upperclassmen on the team who have been in our position before and who can give us advice and help us out. They welcomed all of us with open arms and I think I can speak for everyone when I say how much that helped us with the transition.