Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune
Tayah Hernandez, middle, and her parents, mother Taylor, left, and father Joe are all smiles after Hernandez signed her National Letter of Intent to play softball at San Francisco State University.
Two years ago, Tayah Hernandez said she was in a bad place and wasn’t even thinking about softball.
However, two years later, she found her love for the game gain and it led to a softball scholarship to San Francisco State University, a Div. II school after signing her National Letter of Intent on Friday in front of family, teammates and friends. She will major in liberal arts to become an elementary school teacher.
“It’s like a dream to accomplish and I get to live it out now,” she said. “I get to go to everybody and say I’m going to San Francisco State. I will have people out there to support me.”
“This is one heck of an accomplishment,” Hernandez’s travel softball coach Keith Davis said. “Of everybody I have coached, ever, Tayah’s road hasn’t been an easy road. A big part of her change is when she came here and had to sit out a year. She got to take a look at the game at a different aspect. She’s a special kid, not just on the softball field. On the field, she’s a beast and she’s a stud. I’m not just her coach, she’s like a second kid to me. We’ll talk about life. I’m going to miss those talks. San Francisco State is getting one heck of a ball player.”
Hernandez transferred to Madera from Chowchilla after her freshman year. She sat out her sophomore season due to surgery on her labrum. It was during that time that Hernandez wasn’t feeling the game.
“When I first got hurt, I was really struggling with doubt of the game,” she said. “I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do and didn’t love the game. I knew I was going to miss time because of my injury and that was going to set me back. When I took that time off, it helped me study the game and helped me study what I like to do. I just found myself with teammates that encouraged me and made me a part of the team. It really helped me love the game and study the game to better my softball IQ.”
When Hernandez took a “redshirt” year during her sophomore season, she sat in the dugout during practices and helped out during the games, but she was there for her teammates. While she was out of the game, she was re-learning the game.
“I didn’t meet Tayah until her sophomore year,” Madera Coyotes softball coach Judy Shaubach said. “She came in and told me she would be injured and couldn’t play. What she didn’t tell us was that she was going to be at all of our games, all of our practices when she wasn’t in therapy and she contributed. It didn’t matter whether she was in the field or not, but what she brought to the team was leadership in keeping kids up in the dugout and talking and learning softball. We talked a lot. Eighty percent of this game, as well as most of sports, is played above your shoulders. You could be the most talented athlete on the field, but what you bring in your head, heart, passion, dedication, commitment to work hard and improve yourself is important. She tries to get better everyday on the field. I am pleased to be able to coach her.”
It took Hernandez most of the year to find what she loved most in softball.
“It came at the end of the year when I could see from the outside perspective of what I could do on the field,” she said. “When you’re playing the game, you might not see something, but you can see it when you aren’t playing.”
With a chance at playing last year, Hernandez exploded into the lineup. After losing big bat Aaliyah Cuevas to graduation and Fresno State the year before, Shaubach was worried who would fill in her big hole in the batting order. Hernandez filled in her spot in the line-up and entrenched herself as one of the best hitters on the team.
“It’s easy to coach her,” Shaubach said. “I don’t want to mess anything up for her. She’s such an accomplished hitter. I feel like what I helped her the most is the mental game. I’ve coached a lot of very good players over the last 32 years. I’ve coached a college All-American. There have been very good athletes to come through these doors. I think this young lady is the best young lady I have coached as a hitter who comes to the game and, within her at bat, can make changes to what the team needs or what she needs to do successfully to get on base. That says a lot. Every at bat, she does what she has to for her team and herself to be successful. She’s the most talented kid that can change within the game. She gets it. She’s going to do that in college.”
Hernandez finished the season with a .512 batting average. She became the first Madera Coyotes softball player to hit over .500 for an entire season. She also had an on-base percentage of .560 and slugged .600.
After her extraordinary year, Hernandez still went into her senior year unsure of what was coming when she graduates next year.
“I knew if it wasn’t going to work out, something else was going to happen,” she said. “I knew no matter what, I gave it my all and there was nothing else I could do.”
Before her injury, Hernandez attended a camp at CSU Fullerton and opened eyes there. However, that was before her injury and she hadn’t heard from anybody since.
“After my injury, I hadn’t heard from anybody and I was really getting worried,” she said.
However, it was during the travel season that Hernandez served notice and San Francisco State saw even though they were looking for younger players.
“San Francisco State was looking at 2020 players,” Davis said. “I knew I had to get Tayah looked at. I told them I have this 2019 outfielder. Get a hold of her. You’re going to get somebody special. Those games, Tayah did a great job. She caught the eye of their coach. He was talking my head off to get her to go to San Francisco State.”
Hernandez also heard from Midland College in Texas, but San Francisco State was first on her mind. When they called and offered, Hernandez had one thing on her mind — the weather.
“I remember knowing I wanted to be in California and close to my family.,” she said. “They are a really big support system. When they called, I said I was going to get out of this heat. When I went to go visit, I liked the girls that were there. I practiced with them and the weather was so nice. I really loved the campus and where it was at. It was on the outskirts of San Francisco.”
Hernandez said she was working towards a college education early in her softball career, but wondered what would happen when she missed the year because of her injury.
“I traveled a lot when I was younger to further my athletic career at the collegiate level,” she said. “It’s something I’ve been working for since I was 12. There was a goal to get to at the end of it all.”
However, now that she has signed that National Letter of Intent, Hernandez is relieved and is ready for her senior season.
“It was like a weight off my shoulders where I could be going and where I am going. It was really hard to get here because of the injuries, doubt and struggle to get to where I am.
“I’m hoping to get myself and my teammates better. I want to be a leader for them and hopefully rub off this dream on them to give them hope. I hope to set the bar higher and set another record. It’s up there, so I’m going to have to work harder than last year.”
“San Francisco State is really lucky to get her,” Shaubach said. “I’m looking forward her senior year and to her leadership to this team and the commitment and dedication to the sport. We’re only going to be better because we get her for another year.”