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Golden Valley's Branndi Melero: Grizzlies’ golden solution

Golden Valley senior Branndi Melero has helped usher in a fresh attitude to a team with a struggling

Posted: April 24, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 24, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Golden Valley senior shortstop and University of Auburn-bound Branndi Melero, front, has a core of young, scrappy teammates believing they can contend in the ultra-competitive Foothill League. This season, Melero carries a .558 average with 22 RBIs, four home runs, six doubles and six triples.

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People leave their legacies in a variety of ways.

Sometimes it’s based off statistics or personal accomplishments.

Other times it stems from team achievements.

Golden Valley senior outfielder-turned-shortstop Branndi Melero’s legacy could come from something else entirely — garnering the Grizzlies attention and a renowned coaching staff that has its sights set on turning the program into a contender.

“I just want Golden Valley to be a better program,” Melero says. “I want it to be able to improve and for people to sit there and say, ‘I want to play for Golden Valley.’”

The Grizzlies have struggled over the years. In its first four seasons in the Foothill League, the team went a combined 2-38 with two wins over West Ranch.

Melero is in her fourth and final season at Golden Valley.

She’s been there for all the downs and very few ups.

She’s seen other players leave the program.

But she didn’t.

“It’s just fun,” Melero says. “I have a lot of friends. I’d rather work with a younger team to help make them better instead of already being at a top school and playing. I like the competition and being able to show people we are a scrappy team and are able to come out and win.”

Her commitment is the Grizzlies’ gain in the stat book and for its future.

When Golden Valley was in need of its third head coach in as many years, Melero had an idea.

She approached her travel ball coaches with the SoCal Choppers — Hugo Castillo, Darren Fitzgerald and local gurus and founders of the 27-year-old club, Dean and Gary Fausett.

“We applied because of her, especially me,” said Castillo, who has taken over the head coaching duties.

Fitzgerald brings pitching expertise, Dean is helping with hitting, and Gary is focusing on defense.

Dean recalls Melero’s appeal.

“‘I want you to know that I want to help this team and get them started,’” he recalls her saying. “‘I want to look back after college and say, hey, people have to fear my high school now.’ She is going to be a big part of that, and so is the rest of that high school team.”

That high school team is loaded with underclassman, an impressionable group that is demonstrating a lot of upside.
It hasn’t taken long to see the results.

One year after winning only one game the entire season, the Grizzlies are 9-12. On April 14, they recorded their first league victory since April 15, 2008 with a 4-3 win over Canyon at Canyon High School.

Melero scored the game-winning run, crossing the plate on a squeeze bunt from sophomore pitcher Sydney Herrera.

“She’s definitely a good athlete, and she’s able to play different positions, so wherever we need her is where we can put her,” Herrera says. “I think she just has a desire to win so much, and that’s why she pushes us so much. She sees the potential we’ll have. By doing that, she can bring the best out of us all.”

The senior is putting forth another solid performance this season.

She is hitting .558 with 22 RBIs, four home runs, six doubles and six triples, mimicking production from her previous seasons.

Next year, she’ll take those numbers to Auburn, having earned the Grizzlies’ most high-profile softball scholarship to date.

Branndi’s sister Brianna also garnered a scholarship coming out of Golden Valley. Brianna currently plays for Long Island University.

“She taught me a lot of what I know,” Branndi says. “Probably my biggest inspiration when it comes to softball. She really taught me how to play. Being able to watch her and catching on to how she does it has made a big impact on the way I play.”

So have her years with the Grizzlies.

They’ve matured her, she says.

Castillo sees it.

“What made her so special is that she is very, very committed to respecting the game, respecting herself and respecting her coaches,” he says. “You have to see her level of professionalism on the field to be able to really able to appreciate Branndi Melero.”

Hers is a mentality of team achievement and growing school pride. And it has begun to consume the team.

“The team has come together so much,” she says. “We are such a big family. Having Hugo has impacted us a lot, pushing us to get better.”

Says Herrera: “We just all have more of a desire to be out there and play. And our love for the game really shows.”

The Grizzlies have gone back to the basics, learning the mechanics of throwing and catching.

They are developing confidence at the plate and grasping the nuances of baserunning.

The Fausetts are only able to make it a few times a week because of their jobs, while Fitzgerald is able to commit more time.

The staff has even helped procure new equipment for the team including a new storage facility. It is all a part of an over-arching effort to make the program realize its potential, Dean says.

Melero says it’s a family atmosphere that she found within the Choppers organization that now permeates the Grizzles’ program.

It has left an impact on Melero.

She has, in turn, left her own impact, and on more than just Golden Valley.

“It’s her appreciation for the game and love for the game that brought a newfound love of softball for me,” Castillo says. “This is a very special kid that loves the game, and you rarely run into this.”

And it is helping the Foothill League gauntlet become that much more competitive.

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