Benny Garcia isn’t your typical first-year coach.
It’s true that, in his first year as the head coach of the Santa Ynez High softball team, Garcia led his Pirates to a second-place finish in the Channel League – and for that accomplishment, he’s been voted the Lee Central Coast Newspapers’ All-Area Softball Coach of the Year — but it wasn’t and isn’t his first head coaching job.
Garcia is also the longtime coach of the Aftershock, a highly successful club team from the Santa Ynez Valley.
And the Aftershock is stocked with current Pirates who continue to play this summer up and down the Central Coast and beyond.
Garcia joined former Pirates head coach Denicia Gills’ staff four seasons ago and help turned around what had been a downtrodden program.
In 2019, when Gills gave up the job so that she could spend more time following her three children as they competed on various Santa Ynez High teams, Garcia was the natural choice to take over the program.
Now it was Garcia’s turn to lead the Pirates into the new Channel League era.
After the Santa Maria Valley and San Luis Obispo County schools left the CIF Southern Section for the greener pastures of the CIF Central Section, it left Santa Ynez, Lompoc and Cabrillo as the odd men (or in this case women) out.
And that meant Santa Ynez, Lompoc and Cabrillo would join a reconfigured Channel League along with the much larger Santa Barbara area schools — Dos Pueblos, San Marcos and Santa Barbara.
Playing David to so many Goliaths, Santa Ynez went out and slayed the giants, finishing the league season with an 11-3-1 league record (16-7-2 overall).
“I appreciate the award but this really isn’t about me,” Garcia said during a recent interview as the Aftershock got ready for their summer season. “This is an award for the girls. They made this happen. They put in all the hard work and made our year a success.”
It helped to have the league’s best pitcher, Garcia’s All-Area MVP daughter Armani, on the mound but coach Garcia is quick to point out that this wasn’t a one-girl team.
In 2019, Lisette Coria was a tough hitter for opposing pitchers to get out and Key-annah Pu'a was a tough pitcher for opposing hitters to hit.
“This was probably the most complete team I ever had. Up and down the lineup, these girls were incredible,” said Garcia. “Some of those Santa Barbara teams may have had more skilled position players than we had but we were an actual team. Everybody was happy for everyone’s success. Nobody cared who the star was. The girls had total support for each other.”
So the Pirates came from a small school and produced big results.
“It’s not often that a tie leads to victory but that is exactly what happened to us — the tie against (eventual league champion) Dos Pueblos was our breakthrough. It really was the starting point of our successful season.”
The teams met for the first time on Friday, March 8.
Santa Ynez was undefeated at 7-0 and 4-0 in the league, having already defeated Lompoc, Cabrillo, Santa Barbara and San Marcos. Dos Pueblos was 4-4 and 3-0 in league play.
Armani Garcia struck out 16 DP batters, giving up two runs on four hits.
Dos Pueblos’ star pitcher Allison Speshyock struck out 10 while also yielding two runs on 10 hits.
When Dos Pueblos scored a run in the top of the seventh that tied the score at 2-all.
The teams battled back and forth but neither scored again until the game was called because of darkness after 10 innings.
For recent Santa Ynez High School graduate Maggie Usher, it’s the last go-round — the last go-round of her high school career.
“That game showed us that we could play with anyone — anyone,” said Garcia.
“That game was pretty impressive. We beat everyone’s expectation. It’s good to know that a small school can play big time ball,” said outfielder Michaela Baker. “And Coach Benny is really good. If you’re having a problem, he explains it. He helps us all with everything — our hitting, our fielding.”
“I have always thought of Coach Benny as a head coach. He’s been my coach at Aftershock and he’s really good,” said second baseman Nicole Atiles. “He’s helped me with my hitting a lot and is everyone’s biggest supporter.”
“Coach Benny has taught me everything I know about playing,” said shortstop/third baseman Yesenia Vega. “He’s coached me for a long time and he doesn’t just shape you to be a good athlete but also to be a good person.”
“He treats everyone like family,” said assistant coach, former Pirate first baseman and Armani’s older sister Anastazia Garcia. “He’s always coached us like one big family and makes sure the girls have a really good bond.”
“When I was younger, he forced me to practice and I hated it,” said Armani Garcia. “Now I love it because I know it makes me better but he’s definitely the reason I am where I’m at today.”
“I think one of the main things I’ve stressed is for the girls to go out and have fun,” said Benny Garcia. “I want them to practice hard and play hard but have a good time doing it.
“We played with a bit of a chip on pour shoulders this season. We wanted to show that we were just as good as the bigger schools and I think we proved that we’re just as good as they are.”
Along the way, the Pirates beat every league opponent at least once and swept both of their old Los Padres League rivals Lompoc and Cabrillo.
And the Pirates served notice that they’ll be even better next year having lost only three players to graduation — catcher Maggie Usher, outfielder Sabrina Harridge and Atiles.