Nisa Ontiveros was good enough as a petite freshman and sophomore. Adding another advantage? Almost unfair.
But as Ontiveros grew, both in stature -- she's 5-foot-10 -- and reputation -- she has signed with Cal, the nation's top seed in this year's NCAA Tournament -- intimidation became as important to her repertoire as the riseball.
"I've had a couple of hitters come up to me that I've faced for four years and had them tell me, 'You're intimidating out there. You scare me,'" Ontiveros said. "That's a good thing."
And Ontiveros, a runaway choice for The Californian's Softball Player of the Year, had her best season as a senior.
She had an ERA of 0.40, an opponents' batting average of .106 and 256 strikeouts in 163 innings, including 12 games in which she whiffed 10 or more batters.
"She's just so confident, and she's learned how to pitch," Ridgeview coach Jerry Dumatrait said. "If one pitch isn't working, she's learned to throw something else. And she'll go into a game saying, ‘I want more groundballs to keep my pitch count down.’ That’s how smart she is.”
And, oh, by the way: At the plate, Ontiveros led the Central Section with 15 home runs and batted .500.
“I don’t know how she could be underrated at the plate, but maybe she is,” Dumatrait said. “I’m hoping she’s going to hit in college. I can’t imagine anyone not using her to hit.”
Ah, yes, college.
The next step for Ontiveros — whom Cal Hi Sports named first-team all-state and its Medium Schools State Player of the Year — is the Pac-12 Conference, home of some of the nation’s strongest collegiate softball programs. And Cal is right near the top of the list.
“I’m just going to try to execute all my pitches, develop my drop (ball) and changeup, hopefully make an impact my freshman year,” Ontiveros said. “They said they expect me to take some innings.”
Ontiveros, who came to high school throwing in the low 60s mph, is now throwing about 65. She hopes to reach the elite level of 70 during her time at Cal.
“I’m also working on location,” she said. “Without that, you get hit, especially at the college level.”
But the fact is, Ontiveros had grown too good for the high school game.
“When we used to face Megan (Langenfeld, former Centennial and UCLA star), one of the big deals about those pitchers was they’re intimidating,” Dumatrait said. “That’s one reason they’re so successful. As soon as they’ve walked in the circle, they’ve won.”
Ontiveros knows she’ll lose that in college, where everybody’s a star, but she won’t forget her time at Ridgeview.
“It was amazing,” she said. “I got four years here, I got to play with some of my friends and coach Jerry, a great coach. We’ve had our ups and down, but it just made me that better of a pitcher.”
And the best news for the rest of the Central Section? Ontiveros won’t be in that circle to push them around anymore.
“With her, there wasn’t a team I didn’t feel we couldn’t have beaten,” Dumatrait said. “She’s very competitive. Everything is a competition, and she usually comes out on top.”