Analy’s Ochoa picks Holy Names

Analy's catcher Sydney Phillips talks to pitcher Nicole Ochoa during a game last June. (PD photo).

By MIKE COIT
PRESS DEMOCRAT

Giving up soccer, basketball and ballet was smart after all for Analy pitcher Nicole Ochoa who will receive a softball scholarship to play for Holy Names, a top small college program.

The All-Empire pitcher wanted to play for the NAIA school in Oakland because the Hawks have been to the national tournament the past two seasons and could move up to NCAA Division II.

Plus, she’s not as far from home as Oregon and Idaho, schools that sought her.

“They’ve done pretty well the last few years. I definitely wanted to be on a team that can compete,” Ochoa said. “It came down to being close to home and I like the school.”

Playing top level youth tournaments last year and Ochoa’s work at a Holy Names winter clinic convinced Hawks’ coach Melanie Gregor the Analy hurler could compete in the college game.

“She’s been very successful. She adds depth to our pitching rotation,” Gregor said.

A decade after first playing softball, Ochoa has become a prep star.

Soccer was her favorite sport and she continued playing two years at Analy. But pitching is in her blood — second cousin Carmen Martinez pitched for the University of Texas.

Under the tutelage of Martinez, she developed into a pitcher who moves the ball effectively and hits her spots.

A second team All-Empire pick as a sophomore, Ochoa was first team last season and is among the region’s best again as a senior.

Ochoa improved even more pitching last summer and fall for the Salinas Wildcats, a top travel team.

“Playing with the Salinas team was an eye opening experience to say the least. I got enough confidence that I could play in college,” Ochoa said.

Not only did Ochoa refine her pitching, she also became a mentally tougher player. Physical training will make her even stronger for the college game.

“That was definitely a test in conditioning. That was the most games I played in a short period of time,” she said of the tournaments.

Deciding where to pitch in college began with contacts to some 50 schools. Lewis and Clark, Southern Oregon and Dominican were strong considerations.

A weekend visit to Holy Names where she stayed with players and worked out with the team helped Ochoa make her choice.

“It was just a nice small school. The players all hung out. The teachers seemed really personal,” Ochoa said. “This seemed more like me.”

One of three incoming freshmen pitchers, Ochoa will need to compete for playing time. Ochoa has the talent, but will need to continue improving as all players do in making the transition — there are few easy outs in college lineups, Gregor said.

“In college the competition is just bigger and stronger. Hitters have seen consistent quality pitching,” Gregor said. “She’s going to have to figure out what she can throw and what she can’t.”

Playing close to home can help players because family and friends will come and watch, Gregor said.

First for Ochoa is helping Analy repeat as Sonoma County League champion and make a run in the North Coast Section playoffs.

“This year I would definitely love to go farther,” Ochoa said.