SALINAS – Leadoff hitters are often tone setters, showcasing patience, being selective at the plate. Bunt, slap, walk.
Samantha Rey fits the profile, swinging from the left side with her speed. Yet, that’s where the similarities end.
It wasn’t that the Notre Dame second baseman couldn’t perfect those traits. It’s just her 5-foot, 2-inch frame packs a punch.
“Sam doesn’t just put the ball on the ground and use her speed to get on base,” Notre Dame coach Tom Cardinale said. “She did it all with hard contact.”
If the .578 batting average doesn’t get your attention, how about a Gabilan Division-leading eight home runs?
Bound for Central Florida University in two years on a softball scholarship, the junior was named The Herald’s Softball Player of the Year.
“If you played her in, she’d hit it over your head,” Cardinale said. “The assumption is she’s a speed girl. But I’ve never had a girl with her batting average, hit the ball with authority.”
Rey flirted with .600 most of the season, with 18 multiple-hit games during the 21-7 season, which ended with the Spirits falling in the Northern California Division II semifinals.
“We built off how we played,” Rey said. “We started out rough. We took those losses and built off them.”
State-ranked when the season began, Notre Dame stumbled out of the blocks, being outscored 12-0 in starting the year 0-2.
“I don’t think it shook our confidence,” Rey said. “It just showed us that we needed to work on certain things individually.”
That included Rey, whose slick-fielding presence at second base turned hits into routine outs. Yet, the ability to field and throw on the run often meant balls were arriving from different angles.
“Normally players field and set their feet,” Cardinale said. “Samantha gets the ball and releases it so fast. Our first basemen had to adjust. Her game is already at the college level.”
With a pitching staff that induced ground balls to the right side of the infield, Rey led the team in assists, sporting a .930 fielding percentage, turning three double plays.
“I think I work more on my defense than hitting,” Rey said. “When I make an error, it bothers me more. A defensive play can set the tone or lift a team’s spirits.”
Her bat, though, clearly stole the spotlight this past spring for Notre Dame, which won its first Gabilan Division title since 2015.
Rey reached base in 26 of the Spirits’ 28 games, spraying the ball around the field for 53 hits while scoring 38 runs.
“My thing is I don’t think too much at the plate,” Rey said. “If you overthink it, nothing good will happen. My only thought is to swing at the first good pitch I see.”
Rey isn’t a slap hitter who is beating out infield hits. The ball comes off her bat at a high rate of speed – to all fields.
“I just felt I was going to get on every time I came to the plate,” Rey said. “I am not up there to walk. I came to the plate confident. It was fun.”
Rey was clutch in starting rallies, producing in big moments, driving in a team-leading 28 runs. On the bases, she created havoc with a team-high 15 steals.
“We let her do her own thing,” Cardinale said. “We expect her to know what to do. She’s played more games than a lot of coaches have coached.”
Between summer and winter travel ball, and high school, Rey pulls in over 100 games a year, spending this summer in Orange County, playing for a high-level travel team.
With a scholarship already secured, Rey – who also plays shortstop in travel ball – won’t feel the same pressure as in previous years in trying to catch the eye of a college recruiter.
“Travel ball is more serious,” Rey said. “There are a lot of recruiters. But it’s fun to go to different places. I want to experience the feeling of winning a national championship.”
One thing the 16-year-old will miss in her final season at Notre Dame next spring is her sister Victoria, who’s headed to Weber State in the fall to play softball.
“We had our arguments,” laughed Rey. “But it was fun playing with my sister. It will feel a lot different. She’s played a big role as a team leader. I guess it will fall into my hands next year.”
Of all the magical moments that Rey created with her bat and glove, what stands out was the Spirits’ win over rival Salinas in their second league meeting.
“We mercy-run them (10 runs or more lead in five innings),” said Rey, who homered and drove in three runs. “It was on our field. It was just a good game as a team.”
Contributed by local news sources