It was a celebration of sorts for two East Union High teammates.
Michelle Castro and Taylor Ward signed letters of intent Wednesday to play college softball next year.
Castro, who is the daughter of Selena and Hildo Castro, agreed to play for William Penn University, an NAIA school in Oskaloosa, Iowa.
Ward will play for the NCAA Division I Colorado State University Rams in Ft. Collins, Co. She is the daughter of Cyndi and Deon Ward, who is also an assistant coach for the Valley Oak League-leading Lancers (7-0, 15-0 overall).
Both had interesting journeys prior to the signing event, according to East Union coach Brian Goulart.
“Taylor and Michelle are like two peas in a pod,” he said.
For Castro, who plays multiple positions including first base and the outfield, she was constantly challenged by her coach to the point she nearly transferred to Lathrop High. Goulart, in particular, was upset with her poor grades during Castro’s freshman year.
“Coach G made me a better person – he made me grow up,” she said.
Castro then quit softball altogether following her junior year with the Lancers.
“I was tired, mentally and physically – I had played softball since I was 5,” she said.
It took her travel ball coaches, among others, to help re-invigorate Castro’s love for the game. Her exile from the game lasted all of one month. Her parents were there to support her decision. She is now in the middle of a breakout season, leading East Union with a robust .596 batting average to go with four homers and 31 RBIs.
“It was tough for me to pick up the softball and glove (again),” said Castro, who knew that the game would be her ticket to college.
One of her coaches described her as a “Division I player going to an NAIA school.”
Ward, by contrast, was a smooth ride, Goulart said.
Quiet and unassuming, Ward has been a low-maintenance standout player during her years with the Lancers.
But growing up, she was dogged for her size.
Goulart remembered his centerfielder at age 8 having great technique in swinging a bat despite her small stature.
In January, Ward, who was being recruited by several schools, was invited to attend the Colorado State softball camp thanks to the support of a rival coach.
Paulie Gabales of the NorCal Firecrackers based out of Modesto – he’s also an assistant softball coach at St. Mary’s High – is longtime admirer of Ward’s strong character and skill set.
“She came ready to play,” Gabales said. “You can see that she has a lot of the intangibles in her game.”
Ward is batting .400 with 15 RBIs.
In the end, Goulart applauded his two star players.
“Both have worked hard and are one in the same – Michelle has been my challenged superstar and Taylor is my quiet superstar,” he said.
Castro and Ward are joining two other Lancers in the college ranks. Shortstop Sam Owen (Pacific) and catcher Alejandra Rascon (Cal State Northridge) signed in the fall.