VERO BEACH, Fla. -- At a softball tournament full of players trying to land a commitment, no young lady may have made a bigger commitment to the game than catcher Mariana Vazquez.
A senior at Dickinson High School in Dickinson, Texas, the 17-year-old Vazquez made the decision a few years ago to improve her skills behind the plate by taking her game somewhere more competitive -- Houston.
And driving many more miles in the process.
With the quality of softball much better in the larger metropolitan city than in nearby Galveston, Vazquez chose to make the drive up I-45 to north Houston to practice -- a one-hour, 45-minute trip negotiating through the sprawling city’s bustling traffic.
“Their practices are way far away from me,” said Vazquez, who occupies her familiar role as catcher for the undefeated Houston Astros RBI team in the 2019 RBI Softball World Series at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex.
“Every select team I’m on is always an hour or two hours away from me. There’s better talent up there, and I wanted to be part of it.”
Affectionately called “Lulu,” Vazquez has committed to play at Nicholls State University, a Division I school in Thibodaux, La., that competes in the Southland Conference.
Houston coach Megan Hays relinquishes a certain duty to Vazquez during games: entrusting the heady catcher with the authority to call every pitch.
“She knows to communicate with the pitchers before and during the game to see what’s working and what’s not. Since she’s working with them directly, we give her that responsibility,” Hays said.
Vazquez has spent much of the summer behind the plate catching her sister Marissa, a sophomore at San Jacinto College. Seeing so many pitches has helped the young backstop become accustomed to calling her own pitches.
“It creates a better connection between the pitcher and me,” Vazquez said. “The pitcher feels more comfortable with me calling them ... and I see where the batter’s standing, so I can call a pitch that may jam [her].”
She and her teammates have steamrolled the tourney in their first five contests, outscoring the opposition 47-10 as Houston remained the only undefeated side in the eight-team field through Tuesday.
Winners of 2018’s RBI World Series in Minnesota, Houston defeated Cleveland Baseball Federation RBI 11-2 on Tuesday morning, with standout Class of 2021 spark plug Turiya Coleman driving the offense, going 3-for-4 with four RBIs and two runs scored.
Playing shortstop in the tournament, Coleman has committed to play at the University of Oklahoma, a Big 12 powerhouse program. However, she will play for the Sooners as a catcher -- the spot currently held on the Houston squad by Vazquez.
“I had a lot of offers, but OU ... I just love the campus, I love [Coach] Patty [Gasso] and it’s one of the best softball programs around,” said Coleman, who said at one point she had dreamed of playing for her home state University of Texas Longhorns.
Of her playing style, Coleman added: “I love to make it complicated for the other team. I want them to always be guessing what I’m going to do. I just want to put pressure on them.”
Scarlett Montalvo, a member of the Rays RBI Tampa squad, has decided to keep her game in-state and is just happy to be playing again.
Montalvo, who played in center field on Tuesday, has been sidelined with strained quadriceps, but the diminutive lefty was roaming the gaps, grabbing fly balls and driving in a run with a single in the Rays’ 7-3 win over Dominicana RBI in Tuesday’s morning game.
Montalvo started playing baseball at age four before switching to softball when she was 12. After a successful career at Tampa’s Alonso High School, she’s moving on to Miami Dade College.
Her teammate and close friend both on the Rays and at Alonso H.S., Kristin Kopp, was the winning pitcher in the team’s first of its two Tuesday victories. Kopp has committed to play at State College of Florida in Bradenton.
Montalvo hopes they will play against each other in college.
“One year we didn’t play travel ball together, and we played against each other. I got a hit off her, but I didn’t rub it in. She said, ‘I hate pitching against you because I know you can hit,’” said Montalvo, laughing.
Robin Kopp, Montalvo’s coach at Alonso for four years, said the Miami school will be getting a special player whom opponents should not overlook because of Montalvo’s five-foot frame.
“One of the best things about Scarlett is her size. People underestimate her because of her size, but she has always played like she’s six feet tall. As an outfielder, she has such a quick jump off the bat she can track down any ball,” Kopp said.
“Miami Dade will be speechless when they really see what she can do.”