Reliever relives experience at Fresno State

Right-handed pitcher Sarah Santana pitched fifteen innings this season as a reliever for the ‘Dogs. (Fresno State Athletics)

Softball has always been a part of her life. Now, as Fresno State Bulldogs senior softball relief pitcher Sarah Santana nears the end of her playing career, she appreciates the journey that she has taken to become the person she is today.

Santana wanted to be a Bulldog from a very early age. Although she was born in Miami Beach, Florida, she and her family moved to the Central Valley as she started third grade and considers herself a locally grown player and person.

“I basically grew up here watching Fresno State softball, and that is always where I wanted to play; Valley pride and family feel, all of that,” Santana said.

Before she could fulfill her dream of being a Bulldog, Santana had to make a quick detour to Fresno City College. There, Santana was the ace of the pitching staff and won 2016 NorCal Pitcher of the Year honors.

This dominance in the circle garnered much attention from universities looking to recruit her.

For a time, it seemed as if Santana would not be a Bulldog, she said. Santana went to the California State University Stanislaus but said that being there wasn’t a good fit for her.

But the uncertainty of where she would play was not behind her. Santana first was recruited hard by California State University, Bakersfield, so hard in fact that she verbally committed to going there.

One thing about verbal commitments is that they are not set in stone, in this case to the benefit of the Bulldogs.

Santana said that she got wind that recently hired Fresno State softball head coach Linda Garza was interested in bringing her on board, much to the delight of Santana. The real possibility of her playing for her dream school was revived.

“When I found out Garza became the coach, I got her contact information and she expressed interest and so I dropped my verbal [commitment] to Bakersfield about three weeks before school started,” Santana said.

Being at Fresno City, she said that she was the team’s workhorse. But Santana said that she was never under a false impression about what her role would be at Fresno State. 

As a Bulldog, her playing time significantly decreased. Although she knew ahead of time this would be the case, it was not easy for her to get used to, at first.

“When I first came in, I’m not going to lie, it was something that I struggled with a little bit. But honestly where I am at, I just want to see my team win. We win together, and we lose together, and it doesn’t matter if I play a specific part in it every single time,” Santana said. “I know my energy and just being ready – as long as we are holding the trophy at the end of the day, we win together and that is all I care about.”

Luckily for her and the team, she learned to embrace her role as a relief pitcher saying that it fit her competitive personality.

“Right now my role is relief and to come in and close during pressure situations. I had to embrace that role and take it as a new challenge,” Santana said.

In this 2018 season, the Bulldogs have had a remarkable run and although Santana has thrown just 15.2 innings total in the team’s 48 games, she said that her enthusiasm for the game has allowed her to keep a positive attitude.

She said that at the end of the day, winning is all that she cares about.

If she and her team get their way, they will be holding up an NCAA Championship trophy after her last game.

“I have played softball my whole life, and I am a super-competitive person. That is why I like being a pitcher because of the pressure aspect of it…I really thrive in those situations.”

And the competition is what she will miss the most, she said.

Once her playing days are over, Santana said, she will be far from being done with the game she so dearly loves.

Majoring in kinesiology with a focus on physical education, Santana wants to get her master’s degree and is about four classes away from earning her teaching credential so that she can become a physical education teacher and softball coach.

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