By Rick Assad
Some players try to force the game on themselves. Others, like Burbank High senior-to-be Samantha Buckley, allows the game to come to her.
Up to this point, the hard-hitting shortstop has done well for herself and is one of the top hitters in the Pacific League.
“I try to have patience at the plate and wait for a good pitch,” said Buckley, who paced the Bulldogs softball team in six hitting categories including home runs with four, runs batted in with 16, batting average at .397 and runs scored with 20 of her philosophy in the batter’s box.
Someone who knows Buckley, who also led the way with 10 doubles and 31 hits, for many years is Burbank coach Melissa Sanchez, who was also a standout player for the Bulldogs.
“I have coached Samantha since she was seven years old. I have been there since she got her nickname “Bucks.” It is crazy to think that she will be driving to practice next year,” she said. “It has been fun watching this girl become the athlete she has.”
A contact hitter with genuine power to all fields, Buckley, who hopes to attend and play softball at Cal State Fullerton, Cal State Long Beach, St. Mary’s College or Loyola Marymount, opens up eyes whenever she’s in uniform because of her abundant skill and hard play.
Reaching this level, Buckley is due to determination and countless hours of practice.
Even the very best needs help sometimes, and Buckley is no different.
“I go to my hitting coach and work on my swing and my confidence,” she explained when mired in a rare hitting slump.
Sanchez said Buckley tries to make the game simple, not too complicated and also loads of fun.
“She has always had that spunk that every team needs,” she said. “Samantha always makes games about fun and doesn’t put pressure on herself, and I think that is one of the hardest things to do as an athlete.”
Buckley is sure-handed and hard-throwing in the field, making stops on balls that are destined for the outfield seem routine, when obviously they’re clearly not.
Sometimes Buckley’s play at shortstop is almost hard to explain because she appears to be so calm and collected when fielding the ball.
“I like to play shortstop because you have to be alert to so many things and you typically get a lot of action,” she noted. “I just go out there and do my best.”
Playing shortstop, which is the busiest position on the infield, Buckley had a .910 fielding percentage, 78 total chances and 34 assists with seven errors.
Sanchez spoke about Buckley’s overall assets. “Samantha can do it all on the field. She can run, hit, throw and defend,” she said. “I have a lot of confidence in Samantha. I know that she is going to go out with a bang.”
Though the team was under .500 last season, the Bulldogs did make the CIF Southern Section Division IV playoffs but were knocked out 1-0 in a first-round match against host Temple City, which went on and claimed the division title.
Burbank, which went 12-17 and 5-8 in league action for fifth place, played well at times, but there were several instances when it could have played better.
Buckley certainly feels this way and sees a bright future for herself and her team and is excited for the season to begin next year.
“I wish we would have won more games, especially the ones we lost by a run or two,” she pointed out. “Going into the season, I thought we had a competitive team. We are young though and we will hopefully keep improving.”
The Bulldogs lost six games by one run and were defeated by three runs on two occasions. Looking back, had those games been reversed, the campaign would have been a colossal success.
The signs all point in that direction and when the season commences in 2023, the Bulldogs, who also pieced together a five-game winning streak, are going to be competitive.
Winning the game is always the goal but there is something different when the Bulldogs play the better teams in the league like city rival Burroughs, perennial power Crescenta Valley and always strong Arcadia.
The reason is that instead of walkovers, there is doubt in the air which makes for better and more interesting matches.
“We always want to win, so in that way my approach is the same for each game,” Buckley said. “I do get motivated for the tougher opponents.”
Playing softball means a hitter is going to make out more often than getting on base and it can be frustrating.
Still, this doesn’t prevent Buckley from wanting to take the field and do the best she can.
“I try to get in a good mindset and focus on the game,” she said of what she’s thinking about before and during the game.
Self-assured and confident, but also somewhat quiet, Buckley is one of the best players on the Bulldogs’ team and doesn’t shy away from the spotlight, though the right-handed hitter never seeks the bright lights.
“I’m not a vocal leader, I lead by example,” she said of her role on the team.
Though the softball season is still several months away, Buckley believes her senior season is going to be something special.
“Next year, I expect to compete for the Pacific League title,” she said. “My best asset is wanting to win. That motivates me.”
Whether on the softball field or any other stage, being smart and analytical is always a plus and Buckley has both of those qualities.
For Buckley, she has been offered and taken wise words and has managed to stand out from the crowd.
“The best advice anyone has given me is to leave everything on the field,” she said.
Whether in practice, during a game, fielding her position or swinging the bat, Buckley has definitely done that and then some.