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Magic moment for El Cap pitcher

03/07/2013, 5:50pm PST
By Terry Monahan

Vaqueros still riding high after school's first softball championship.


El Capitan senior left-hander Delanie Gourley has accepted a scholarship offer to Florida.

— They’ve been playing softball at El Capitan High for almost four decades and Delanie Gourley had a junior season like no other Vaquero.

There have been good pitchers at El Cap over the years, but no one could match the almost magical year Gourley had in 2012.

Yet Gourley’s spectacular season was only part of the story.

The Vaqueros never had a season like last year, either. They finally defeated rival Santana — “I don’t think we’ve beaten Santana since before I was born,” Gourley said, laughing — in Grossmont Valley League play, splitting those two games.

Then El Capitan did the unthinkable, defeating Santana twice in the postseason, including a 4-1 triumph in the CIF San Diego Section Division III championship game for the first softball title in school history.

“After the first time we beat Santana, I wondered what was going on,” said Gourley, the section Player of the Year in 2012. “Something happened to this team after that first win, something that carried us the rest of the season.

“I still can’t put my finger on what happened that first time we beat them. It was kind of surreal at first. Even at the restaurant celebrating winning CIF, it finally dawned on me what we had just done.”

Make history.

Led by Gourley, a 17-year-old left-handed pitcher who is now a senior, the Vaqueros won it all.

“Last year still seems a bit unreal,” Gourley said. “I’ll never forget the first day back at school after beating Santana in the finals. It was real hard to wipe the smile off my face.”

Gourley was smiling all season.

Her first two years at El Capitan, where her dad Dave (1981), mom Denise (1986) and brother Dalton (2010) all graduated, were pretty good.

She batted .353 and was 15-9 with a 1.17 ERA as a freshman. Gourley hit .364 with a 9-14 record and a 2.05 ERA as a sophomore.

And Gourley was dominating in the circle, striking out 658 batters in her first two seasons as a Vaquero.

“We didn’t score a lot of runs her first two years,” longtime El Capitan coach Joe Cota said. “We had to keep her head on straight because we lost games on passed balls, errors, things like that.

“The kids know we can win when she pitches, but I don’t want her to try to strike everyone out. When things go bad, I’ll give her a look and she knows the sun will come up tomorrow.

“I’ve been here a while and we’ve had good pitchers, but someone like her is rare. If you’re lucky as a coach, you get a once-in-a-lifetime pitcher like Delanie.”

Then came 2012.

El Capitan won its last nine games and 14 of its last 15 outings en route to capping off the championship run.

Gourley was even better than before.

The 5-foot-5 standout batted an amazing .544 with an on-base average of .656.

In the circle, she was almost untouchable.

In 149 innings, Gourley fashioned a 17-5 record with an 0.52 ERA, striking out 345 along the way.

“We had no pressure to do what we did,” she said. “There was no El Cap softball tradition to live up to. We broke new ground.

“We were such underdogs last year. No one expected us to do what we did. Why would they? We had never even beaten Santana.

“Now we have a banner to go up in the gym once it’s renovated. I never saw any of that coming. I can’t wait to show my kids the first CIF banner in school history in softball.”

In her first outing this season, Gourley threw a no-hitter but absorbed a 2-1 loss to Carlsbad in the Cougar Classic.

In addition to the lofty goal of winning back-to-back championships, Gourley’s other goal is to shatter the section’s career strikeout record.

She’s closing in on that at a pretty good clip. She entered the season with 1,003 strikeouts in 474 innings and trails only Cassidy Coleman of Horizon, who fanned 1,106 batters for the Panthers (2007-10) in her career.

For someone who started playing at age 4 — “My mom stuck a glove, probably a pink one, on my hand and I haven’t stopped playing,” Gourley said — and who began her playing days as a catcher, Gourley’s drive sent her to the circle where she has excelled enough that she will pitch next for the University of Florida.

“I love pitching because nothing starts until I start it,” she said. “Everything depends on me.

“Off the field, I’m not a real controlling person. I’m basically a go-with-the-flow person, the complete opposite of what I love about pitching.

“Once the game is over and no matter what happened last year, I’m still just me. I haven’t changed.”

But El Capitan softball has changed, and Gourley is a major reason for that.

terry.monahan@utsandiego.com

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