San Benito has always had Carlmont’s number in Central Coast Section play. And nobody knows that better than former Scots pitcher Jerrica Castagno.
Carlmont squares of with San Benito for the CCS Division I championship at San Jose PAL Stadium Saturday at 3 p.m., as the Scots look to capture their first title since 2004.
Castagno was the winning pitcher almost 10 years ago to the day, as the Scots defeated Leland 3-1 for their seventh all-time CCS crown. She fired a one-hitter on that sweltering hot May 29, 2004 afternoon, and actually came within one out of punctuating her high school career with a perfect game, but lost it on an error — followed by a hit to break up the no-hitter — with two outs in the seventh inning.
It’s losing the perfect streak of CCS titles that bugs Castagno more though. After being called up from the frosh-soph ranks at the end of her freshman year of 2001, the Scots won CCS championships in ‘01, ‘02 and ‘04.
“To go out on our senior year with a win, making it three out of four (CCS titles), you really can’t complain,” Castagno said. “It would have been nice to be four out of four, but you can’t have it all.”
The team that prevented her clean sweep was none other than San Benito, as the Haybalers prevailed 1-0 in the CCS Division I semifinals to eliminate Carlmont in Castagno’s junior season of 2003.
It was the first time San Benito and Carlmont ever met in the postseason. Since then, the Hollister-based program has dominated the recurring matchup, defeating the Scots six times in CCS play — including two championship-game matchups in 2007 and ‘12 — while outscoring them 28-4 overall.
With a senior majority of starters in 2004, Castagno and the Scots were determined to return to prominence. And what a talented group of seniors it was. Eight players from that squad have since been inducted into the Carlmont Hall of Fame, five of which — Bridgette Mason, Celina Castillo, Lindsey Garenhime, Bernadette Pisano and Castagno — were seniors.
“Our team … I think seven or eight of the starting nine were all seniors,” Castagno said. “So, we were determined to win. It was a good game. We did it as a team. Our fans were always a hundred percent with us. And having Ligg and the coaching staff that has been through it for, gosh, how long now? It was an awesome win.”
Ligg, of course, is none other than legendary Carlmont head coach Jim Liggett. In his 39th year at the helm of the Scots, Liggett is the winningest softball coach in prep history with 962 career victories. He has coached each of the Scots’ seven CCS championship teams, in 1982, ‘84, ‘97, ‘99, 2001, ‘02 and ‘04.
“Certainly, [Castagno’s] pitching, at times, was outstanding,” Liggett said. “I know Jerrica was instrumental to our success at that time. And she threw exceptionally hard.”
She sure did. Strikeout numbers like hers don’t lie. Castagno fanned 269 opposing batters in 2004, ranking fourth on Carlmont’s all-time single-season leaders list. She also ranks third all-time in single-season shutouts (19) and fourth in single-season wins (28), and is fifth on the career wins list with 60.
And like most all Scots players, Castagno raves about her former coach with reverence.
“I love Ligg,” Castagno said. “When he means business, he means business. … He was the one that was always going through clipboards, out there cracking them over his knee, throwing them on the ground, throwing his hat. But at the end of the day he was so much fun to play for.”
Castagno is also one of three all-time Scots pitchers to be named first-team All-California. Tori Nyberg earned the nod three times in 1997, ‘98 and ’99. And current pitcher Rebecca Faulkner received the honor in 2013.
Castagno and Faulkner are actually a lot alike on the diamond. In addition to both being three-time Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division first-team pitchers, each earned Division I scholarships. Castagno went on to play at Santa Clara University. Faulkner is bound for U.C. Riverside in the fall.
Both also effectively shared time with other standout pitchers. With Faulkner, the Scots somehow found innings for junior Mariko Kondo this season, which should prove valuable when the right-hander takes over fulltime pitching duties next season. For Castagno, she emerged a year younger than standout pitcher Monique Castillo, as the tandem filled the void upon the departure of Nyberg — one of the greatest pitchers in California prep history — who went on to pitch at Stanford.
“Basically, you just figure out who’s throwing the best at the time and they’re the one you pitch,” Liggett said. “And this year it’s been Faulkner. She’s been dominant for us.”
And from 2001-04, it ultimately proved to be Castagno, who was the centerpiece of the most successful CCS run in Carlmont history.
“[Liggett] pushed us to the limit,” Castagno said. “But at the same time, he always wanted us to have fun. It’s kind of hard not to have fun when you’re on such a good team and you’re always winning.”