Gallagher, Rooney excel at home

Former Sobrato High standout Kayla Rooney ended her softball career in style as a key member of a San Jose City team that advanced to the California Community College State Final Eight.

For two former local high school standouts, one person’s athletic journey will continue while the other has ended. So it is for Madison Gallagher and Kayla Rooney, who last month helped lead the San Jose City College softball team to the California Community College State Final Eight. Gallagher, a former Live Oak High standout, has narrowed down her choices to play for either St. Mary’s or Sacramento State.

Rooney, a former Sobrato High standout, will transfer to San Jose State. However, Rooney has chosen not to pursue playing at the four-year level, instead focusing on academics amid a neck injury that causes prolonged pain during athletic activities. Another former Sobrato High standout, Sam Brenny, played a vital role on a powerhouse Jaguars team that finished 38-6 (look for a profile on Brenny during the 2020 season). 

Gallagher and Rooney have similar stories. They both attended a four-year college out of high school—Gallagher at Ohio Valley University in West Virginia and Rooney at Cal State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB)—before finding their way to San Jose City. A 2017 Live Oak High graduate, Gallagher earned a bevy of honors this past season, including state co-player of the year and All-American honors as a utility player, with her best position being at pitcher. 

Gallagher had a spectacular season, ranking in the top four in the state in average, home runs, RBIs, total bases, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. The team’s co-ace along with Stefanie Troja, Gallagher also was a force in the circle, finishing 17-2. 

“I definitely went into the season not expecting to do as well as I did,” she said. “I went in more focused on doing well and helping the team reach state, which was our biggest goal. I kind of got lucky to put up some of the numbers I did.”

Gallagher was being rather modest, and needed to be prodded to explain the factors for her success. She pointed to being an active listener and taking the advice of the SJC coaching staff, which translated to producing some eye-popping numbers. 

“I could not hit the outside pitch to save my life before the season started,” she said. “So during the season our hitting coach worked with me and once conference started, I got it and felt I mastered it. I’m always challenging myself to improve in some area of my game.”

Debbie Huntze-Rooney, who was named the state’s co-coach of the year and recently completed her 28th season as the SJC coach, was effusive in her praise for Gallagher, who was the team’s cleanup hitter and could pretty much hit any pitch thrown her way, as her unbelievable .578 average attests. 

“Maddie is definitely one of the top three hitters we’ve ever had in my 28 years of coaching here,” Huntze-Rooney said. “Maddie has the ability to see a pitch, make the necessary adjustments and make good swings.”

Gallagher said her game—both mentally and physically—has matured a lot since her high school days, as she started taking the game more seriously once she got to college. Gallagher played her freshman year at Ohio Valley, but felt something was amiss. She transferred to San Jose City feeling it was the right time to come home, and things turned out better than even she expected. 

“I didn’t want the season to end because I loved that team so much,” she said. “I’m so proud of us making it to state, and I kind of wish I could play all four years of college here. It’s a great environment with a great coaching staff and just an amazing place to play.”

Kayla is the daughter of Debbie, and neither will forget the amazing experience they had as mom and daughter being on a championship level team. Kayla, a 2015 Sobrato High graduate, played her freshman season at CSUMB before having to take a medical redshirt for her sophomore year. It was in summer 2018 when Rooney decided to come back home and transfer to San Jose City for the final season of her softball career. 

“It was a great decision to come home and I’m very happy how the season turned out,” she said. “I made some really strong friendships and formed an even stronger bond with my mom. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”

Rooney was the team’s starting first baseman and No. 2 hitter in the lineup. She was solid defensively, fundamentally sound in moving baserunners over and was able to hit the ball in the gaps. Last summer, Rooney started suffering pain in her neck, a result of overuse and tension around the neck area that resulted in bone spurs. 

Rooney had to play through pain this season, even getting a series of shots last September to help numb the pain. Even though Rooney’s career has been cut short, she doesn’t have any regrets. Playing for her mom at San Jose City and all of her teammates was something she’ll never forget. On the team’s first day of fall ball practice, Rooney saw Brenny, her former teammate at Sobrato.
“When we saw each other, we were both happy and surprised,” Rooney said. “This was one of the best teams I’ve been on for sure. I played my heart out for my mom and teammates, and the chemistry was there.”

One of Rooney’s best moments of the season came when she hit a walk-off, bases-clearing triple to cement a 8-0 mercy-rule victory over Reedley in Game 1 of a NorCal Super Regional. The Jaguars won the next game, 8-0—also a mercy-rule win—to advance to the State Final Eight. 

“I remember getting to third and my mom said that was the game,” Kayla said. “I was like, ‘Wow, we created so many memories together.’ It was hard to see the season end, but I’m very happy how everything went. It ended the way I needed it to end—with a great team getting to play at state.”