Dre DeJesus had such a memorable experience playing for team Puerto Rico last year in the Triple Crown Fastpitch International Challenge that she decided to run it back for 2023.
The recent Live Oak High graduate will play for Puerto Rico’s 18U squad June 23-25 in Westminster, a suburb of Denver. Even though the Acorns had a magical season that culminated in Central Coast Section and CIF NorCal Regional playoff championships, DeJesus said playing in the Triple Crown tournament is something else.
“I’ve never had more fun playing softball than playing for Team Puerto Rico last year,” she said. “Knowing you’re all rooted from the same culture, you’re all from the same place, it takes you on a different level of enjoying and playing the game.”
What made the event so special was the players forming close bonds despite having never met each other previously and only having a limited amount of time even during the tournament.
“We met the first day for a two to three hour practice,” DeJesus said. “The next day we played a game and the following day played again. That was it, but within those three days we all clicked and bonded like I’ve never experienced before.
“I made so many friends and still keep in touch with them and it shows just how close we grew in three days. Just the culture and all of the parents’ support, too, just took it to a whole new level in how excited they were which made it really fun.”
It’s been a whirlwind of fun for DeJesus in the last several weeks. On May 27, Live Oak won the CCS Division IV playoff title, the program’s first in 18 years. Seven days later, the Acorns made history when they captured the school’s first-ever CIF NorCal Regional championship—in any sport—when they beat North Salinas in the Division V title contest, 13-3.
The good times didn’t stop there. June 8 was DeJesus’ 18th birthday and the next day was graduation.
“Been a super, crazy fun time,” she said. “I can’t really believe graduation is happening. I remember being a little freshman and time just went by really fast.”
A slick-fielding shortstop, DeJesus was part of a graduating senior class that included offensive stalwarts Jasmine Mixco and Bela Panuco. All three players led the team in at least two offensive categories, with freshman sensation Ava Chapman also an offensive stats leader.
Of course, another freshman sensation, Hailey Nguyen, was the X-factor as she gave Live Oak a pitcher who could match up with some of the top A-league teams.
“Hailey was definitely a stud and our golden ticket really,” DeJesus said. “We heard some good things about her before the season started and we were pumped when we saw what she could do. Even though we’ve always had the offense, we really haven’t had that dominant pitching. You can score as many runs as you want, but pitching and defense is what keeps you in games. And Hailey has been our rock the whole year.”
Nguyen was so dominant at times that DeJesus admitted to getting a bit bored defensively.
“There were times Hailey was going to deliver a pitch and I’m not really ready because I know they aren’t going to hit her,” she said. “I’ll admit at times when Hailey was pitching and I was on defense, I might have been a little lazy because they weren’t going to hit her.”
DeJesus also highlighted Chapman’s potent bat and another freshman, Olivia Mixco, who reminded many of her older sister in their playmaking ability.
“Olivia is an amazing outfielder and she’s literally like Jasmine 2.0,” DeJesus said. “Our freshmen really killed it this year. I truly believe we wouldn’t have had the success we had this year without our freshmen. They really carried us this year at times so I’m super grateful for them.”
Live Oak entered the postseason with a pedestrian 10-11 record before winning five straight games and outscoring their opponents by a combined margin of 59-4. Yes, 59-4.
“We caught fire at just the right time,” said DeJesus, who plans on playing at West Valley College for a year before transferring to play for Cal State Monterey Bay. “It was a crazy year. I had super high expectations coming into my senior year, but we had a six or seven game losing streak in the middle of the season. I definitely didn’t expect that to happen.
“So when we qualified for CCS, we didn’t really know how to feel about it and didn’t have high expectations for ourselves going into it. But playing our first game [a 16-0 win], it’s like, ‘OK, we can actually win this.’ Then we ended up winning CCS and NorCals and we just never thought we would do it and make team history. I guess everything happens for a reason.”