Entering the San Jacinto College softball program as another one of Head Coach Kelly Saenz’s prize Houston-area recruits in the fall of 2015, pitcher Niki Gonzalez has now exited as a multi-record holder, becoming arguably the greatest pitcher in the history of San Jac softball.
That in and of itself is quite impressive from a team standpoint.
In doing so, Gonzalez became the College’s all-time wins leader with 61, and her 572 career strikeouts placed her at the top of San Jacinto College’s single-season (302 in 2016) and career lists by a wide margin.
In addition, Gonzalez’s 263 1/3 innings pitched this season tied her for the single-season mark. It was an easy call for the NJCAA selection committee to name Gonzalez a first team All-American. Of interest, San Jacinto College assistant coach Kelsey (McClain) Walters, who played at San Jacinto College during the 2008 and 2009 seasons, was the one who saw a couple of her own team records surpassed.
Gonzalez was the second of three siblings to graduate from Baytown Sterling High School and elect to attend San Jacinto College.
Gonzalez’s sister, Gabby, was the first family member to play at San Jacinto.
A class grade older than Niki, Gabby played with San Jacinto College in the 2015 and 2016 seasons. The team’s primary catcher for two seasons, Gabby was the team leader in home runs both seasons with 10 in each, and she drove in 86 runs over two seasons while being named an All-Conference player both seasons.
Gabby played this season at East Texas Baptist University and, according to Niki, has now elected to end her playing career despite hitting .336 with eight homers and 32 runs batted in for a team that went 38-11.
Looking back to how the Gonzalez-to-San Jacinto College connection began, Niki knows why.
With Gabby already at San Jacinto College as the starting catcher, it was an easy choice to follow a similar trail to San Jacinto College.
“It’s always been great to be able to pitch to Gabby with her as my catcher,” Niki said. “This is not a knock on any other catchers I’ve worked with, but obviously I have a bond and a trust with Gabby that hasn’t been there with anyone else.
“I can throw any pitch in any count and be able to trust her judgement and her ability to make a play. It was great. Last year, I just wanted to get to the national tournament for Gabby.
“We did that, and then this year I wanted all of the freshmen to be able to experience the same thing.”
While leading San Jacinto to waters previously unreached both as a team and individually, Gonzalez developed a comfort level with both Saenz and Walters.
“Coach Saenz really believed in me and trusted me out there on the field,” Gonzalez said. “I did have an increased role this season, but I thrive on that. I feel like I perform best when I know everyone is counting on me to get the job done."
Walters, meanwhile, surely knew some of her San Jacinto College records would one day fall. After all, records are set only to be broken again.
Gonzalez knew she was drawing close to a number of the College’s single-season and all-time records. If much was said about it, it was all about the good of the current team.
“I sort of looked at (Walters) as like a second mom at times,” Gonzalez said.
“She knows my pitching style, my mannerisms and what is best to say to get the best results. I’ll certainly miss both coaches, but it’s been a great experience all the way around, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
So what is next for the JUCO All-American? Gonzalez said she is almost certain of attending the University of Houston-Victoria, where several previous San Jacinto College players have gone on to compete. She is studying education with the aim of becoming a teacher and also wanted to one day obtain a real estate license.
And Gonzalez will surely try to make a few return trips to San Jacinto College, provided time allows. Rebekah Gonzalez, a class of 2017 Baytown Sterling High School graduate and the youngest of the three sisters, has also signed on at San Jacinto College and will be a utility player in a variety of roles beginning this fall.
Niki Gonzalez knows things will work out just fine for her youngest sister, just like it has for herself and Gabby in previous seasons.
“San Jacinto College, for me, was a perfect place to be for a variety of reasons,” Gonzalez said.
“I’m a little bit lazy, but I was able to find the perfect place for me. And we were able to go to nationals both seasons. That’s something that had never been done before.
“With my sister there now, hopefully they can keep it going to be at nationals every year. It’s a lot of hard work along the way, but it’s all worth it. When I think about some of the things we accomplished, I’m really proud.”