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College of the Canyons' Ruby Herrera: Back on the diamond

College softball: Ruby Herrera sat out a year, now she hopes to lead COC back to the playoffs

Posted: March 3, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: March 3, 2012 1:55 a.m.

College of the Canyons softball player Ruby Herrera chose not to play last season after her brother nearly lost his life after being stabbed at a party. This season, the sophomore has returned to the team and leads the Cougars in hits, walks and batting average.

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At the top of the lineup for the top team in the state softball rankings, you’ll find Ruby Herrera.

You’ll often find the College of the Canyons sophomore on base, too. She finds all sorts of ways to get there, whether it’s her 21 hits, or nine walks, or .656 batting average, all of which lead the team.

Herrera says she finds a way to calm herself at the plate, often singing songs to herself to relax her nerves.

“As long as your head’s going to be clear, your head’s going to be fine,” she says.

Herrera has found a way to clear her head after a tumultuous period in her personal life that delayed her sophomore season at COC.

It started with Herrera attending a party with her younger brother Daniel and some friends in late December of 2010. The party was in Sun Valley, a rough area of the San Fernando Valley that Herrera says they typically avoid.

Once the party ended, they were waiting outside for their friends as another couple was leaving. Herrera said she had encountered the boyfriend and girlfriend earlier in the night.

“I had met that guy earlier at the party,” she says. “I told him, ‘Oh, can you please get her? She’s obviously drunk.’ We wanted to keep the peace. We didn’t want any problems.”

Unfortunately, that wouldn’t be the case. The girlfriend mistakenly thought that Herrera and her friends were making fun of her, and when she and her boyfriend charged at Herrera, things got ugly.

When the melee was over, Daniel had been stabbed five times by the boyfriend, who fled the scene with his girlfriend.

Upon arrival at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center, the doctors stabilized Daniel. But one of the stab wounds had punctured a main artery, meaning he was bleeding internally.

“The next thing I know, he took a deep breath and let it out, and all you heard was the flat line,” Herrera says.  

The doctors immediately cleared the emergency room and performed surgery on Daniel. After awhile, they came out and told Herrera and her family that they had lost him.

Five minutes later, they re-emerged and said that Daniel had woken up. To Herrera, it didn’t seem like five minutes.

“When it comes to something like that, it feels like months and months,” Herrera says. “It’s just like, ‘Thank God for keeping him here.’”

Daniel went into surgery for several hours. He went on to make a full recovery.

But Herrera, obviously, was shaken by everything. Softball was not on her mind.

When she called COC head coach John Wissmath about the situation, he understood.

“I told her she needed to have some time off,” Wissmath says. “There’s no reason to try and push a kid when something like that happens.”

Herrera spent most of the spring of 2011 with her family, which became even closer following the ordeal.

As time went on, things became easier. The man who stabbed Daniel was eventually apprehended, which put Herrera’s mind at ease.

All the while, she attended COC softball games. Despite all that had happened, she still missed the game.

“It was hard, because it’s something I’ve done all my life,” Herrera says. “I’ve played since I was four. Not doing it for that one year, it seems like it was so long a wait.”

Herrera starred for Kennedy High School of Granada Hills, helping the Cougars dominate the Mission League and make deep playoff runs.

When she arrived at College of the Canyons, she made an immediate impact. COC won the Western State Conference title that year, with Herrera batting .389 and leading the conference with 46 RBIs and nine home runs.

For her efforts, she was named first-team All-WSC, first-team All-Southern California and first-team All-America.

“You see talent, but the thing that I really noticed right off the get-go were her instincts,” Wissmath says. “You could tell she was clearly above a lot of athletes that she played with. A lot of times, you can’t necessarily teach those things.”

With Herrera tending to personal matters, the Cougars missed those qualities last spring. By the time fall rolled around, Herrera was back.

She had played shortstop as a freshman, but Wissmath didn’t want to rush her into anything.

“I had her over at third base for most of the fall,” Wissmath says. “In fact, I was looking at her to play third and let her get back in the swing of things and see what happens. But there’s that month off between Christmas and the time we start back up with practice. There was no question she was going to be my shortstop at that point.”

And her hitting?

“I’ve been in it so long,” Herrera says. “It’s like muscle memory. It just comes naturally.”

Herrera’s contributions to this year’s team go beyond hitting and fielding. She’s a co-captain, along with sophomore catcher Amy Droege, and she’s been to the California Community College Athletic Association playoffs, which last year’s team didn’t get to experience.

“Our athletes really respect her, everything she has to say and what she’s all about,” Wissmath says.

They should. Herrera not only has great ability, she has great perspective given all she’s been through. Wissmath says his email inbox is flooded with four-year colleges interested in acquiring Herrera’s services once she graduates from COC.

Before she moves on, Herrera’s going to finish her career with the school and program that’s helped her deal with so much.

“I have a lot of confidence in the team this year,” she says. “I think we have a big chance of winning it all. We all want the same thing. We have so much fun. I love this team.”

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