Briana Perez is hitting .524 and has scored 12 runs and her Alhambra High (Martinez, Calif.) is off to a 7-2 start with a difficult schedule.
That’s not nearly good enough for her, and that helps explain why the UCLA signee is considered the No. 1 softball recruit in the nation.
“I’m not where I want to be,” she said. “I think I’m getting back into the swing of things and I’m excited for the rest of season. I know I’m going to work hard to get there.”
Given Perez’ obvious modesty, let coach Paul Buccellato explain.
“She’s just got a great instinct for the game,” he said. “She’s got a softball IQ to the point where she knows what’s going on at all times. She just anticipates everything. That’s what stands her above everybody else, and she’s super-fast. She’s the fastest kid I’ve ever timed in 20 years of coaching.”
Perez, a member of the American Family Insurance ALL-USA TODAY Preseason Softball Team, hit better than .600 in each of the last two seasons with at least 40 RBI after hitting .458 with 27 RBI as a freshman.
FloSoftball.com moved her from No. 3 in its recruiting rankings to No. 1 in November – a development that Perez called a “surprise.”
“I play with or know a lot of the the girls that were among the top numbers with me,” she said. “I respect all the girls I’m ranked with. I think they’re great players.
“I was amazed that I was No. 1. It means a lot, but anything can change at any moment. A lot of pressure comes along with it, but I just do what I am used to and stay within myself.”
Asked if teams were potentially pitching around here – or at least approaching her differently – given her status, she again demurred.
“I think you can tell when some teams are trying, but most teams have great pitchers who are as just as good and have the awards and background that I do. You can’t really avoid pitching to a batter that much.”
Perez began playing softball at age 8, inspired by her family connections. Older sister Kylee plays at UCLA and her dad played rec league softball with Buccellato. She also played soccer through the seventh grade and then basketball as a high school freshman and sophomore, logging time at point guard.
“It wasn’t an easy decision for me because I loved soccer and basketball,” she said. “With softball, my sister stuck with it. That was a big part of it.
“I love that it’s mentally challenging and physically challenging, although most of it is mental. It’s a team sport, but it’s an individual sport. It just takes a lot of different things to play well.”
Kylee and Bri were teammates at Alhambra when Kylee was a senior shortstop and Bri was a freshman centerfielder. When Kyree graduated, Bri moved to shortstop and has been a fixture since.
They will be teammates again next year with the Bruins, where Kylee plays the infield and was named All-PAC12 last season after hitting .388. Bri said the UCLA coaches have talked about her playing in the middle infield or potentially the outfield. As you might expect, though, she says, “Each position has new challenges and it’s always fun to be challenged.”
“When I got to play with her (in high school) that was one of my favorite years,” Bri said. “We played together on travel ball too. It’s really cool to do something you love with someone you love. I’m really looking forward to it.”
The sisters are among the reasons that Alhambra has had success.
“Having those two kids made my job a lot easier,” Buccellato said. “They’re phenomenal athletes and also phenomenal kids.”
Bri is also hoping to again play for the USA Softball Junior National Team. The schedule interferes with summer school at UCLA so that is to be determined.
“I think it’s a great experience overall,” she said of the national team program. “The players are some of the best in country. It’s an amazing feeling that I’m among them on this stage. Seeing all the players before me, I’ve always looked up to them and wearing USA is a pretty surreal feeling.”
Before the sisters reunite at UCLA, Bri has much of her senior season ahead of her. Alhambra has played nine games, which is less than most teams in their area. Buccellato tends to schedule more games toward the end of the season to help his team prepare for the playoffs.
Alhambra has a group of seven seniors and Buccattelo said, “defensively and offensively, I don’t see a better team out there than us. We’re struggling on the mound right now, but it will come around.”
But as Perez notes, there is more work to do.
“I think the game is all about adversity,” she said. “I can do a good job adapting to things. I don’t always do things the best way or the prettiest way, but I can find a way to get it done.”