With a scarce roster for pitching, the Venice High School Gondoliers softball team could have had a major weakness heading into the season.
But the Gondoliers didn’t have to fear after all, as junior Danielle Mestas came to the rescue.
The 17-year-old Mestas is as versatile a softball player as they come, having played at catcher and around the infield, but it was at the pitcher position where she knew she was most needed. Mestas has been so dedicated to the position that when coach Mike Finegold has asked her to pitch nearly every game this season, she didn’t refuse.
“It’s fun for me to go out there,” Mestas said of pitching.
“We don’t have any other pitchers so that’s where I’m needed. I feel I would let my team down if I didn’t.”
Many pitchers might get worn out if they were called on to throw strikes every time their team took the field, but Mestas has used the opportunity to excel at the position. She has helped lead the Gondoliers to an impressive 17-4-1 overall record, including a 10-2 record in the Western League, at the end of the regular season.
With a massive 188 strikeouts, an earned run average (ERA) of 0.56 and a win/loss record of 15-3, Mestas is ranked fourth in the Los Angeles City Section in strikeouts and fifth in ERA. She leads the Western League in both those categories as well as in winning percentage. The second-place pitcher in strikeouts is back in another time zone with 64.
But those are just defensive statistics. Mestas has equally excelled with her bat. During the regular season, she accumulated a batting average of .567, blasted 11 home runs, hit 41 RBI (runs batted in), compiled a slugging average of 1.24 and had an on-base percentage of .64.
She is fifth in the City Section in home runs and led the league in home runs, RBI, and slugging and was second in batting average and on-base percentage.
Finegold said Mestas is “probably the best overall player I’ve coached,” and is a main reason that the Gondos were in contention for the league championship and on their way to the city playoffs. After winning the league title for three consecutive seasons, the Gondoliers finished in second place this season with losses to Palisades High (14-2) and league champion Westchester High (5-4).
Finegold noted that Mestas is the first non-senior he has chosen to be team captain, adding that she was his first choice for the leadership role at the start of the season.
“She’s the true leader of the team,” said Finegold, adding that Mestas helped lead the team to a league title as a freshman. “She could handle the pressure from the beginning and people looked at her as a leader from the beginning. She shows so much leadership on and off the field.”
Mestas, who attended elementary and middle school in Santa Monica, first started playing softball as a nine-year-old in the North Venice Little League.
She says she was drawn to the sport by family members who also played.
During her three years at Venice High, Mestas has also been a major contributor as an outside hitter on the varsity volleyball team, helping lead the Gondos to the City Section finals this year. Playing volleyball has been a key factor to keeping her in shape for the softball season, she said.
Mestas is enrolled in several honors classes at Venice High, including trigonometry, English, physics and U.S. history, and she also volunteers with Heal the Bay at beach cleanups.
When it comes to softball, Mestas says she thrives on the pressure that she faces as pitcher.
“I get nervous sometimes because there’s a lot of pressure, but I like it,” she said.
Mestas attributes her success as pitcher to both her speed and her ability to direct the ball to a specific location from the mound. She admits she can be a little eager when she steps up to hit, but is mostly focused on being relaxed.
“I’m focused on being patient and relaxing up there,” Mestas said.
Finegold sees no weaknesses in Mestas’ game, saying she’s a smart player who hits for power and fields the ball well.
“Anywhere you put her, she’d be a star player,” the coach said. “Come game time, she’s always prepared.”
A main thrill for Mestas at Venice has been defeating the rival Westchester High Comets on the way to capturing the league crown the past three seasons. While the Gondos lost that battle this year, Mestas said she is still pleased with how the season has gone so far.
As the team heads into the post-season, the Gondos want to go as far as they can in the playoffs and continue to play well together, Mestas said.
“We want to play well as a team,” she said.
With one more season remaining in her high school career, Mestas wants to help her team get back the league championship and carry her success to the college level. Among her early considerations are Cal State Fullerton, Loyola Marymount University and the University of Hawaii.