By Rick Assad
It’s bittersweet the way in which Kelsey Acosta closed out her four-year career as a Burroughs High softball player.
The Bears’ 4-2 loss to St. Anthony in the CIF Southern California Division III state championship and before that a 7-2 setback to Temple City in the CIF Southern Section Division IV semifinals, no doubt sting, but despite many spectacular wins, it’s going to be Acosta’s lasting memories playing the game she loves.
This fall, the graduating senior will be attending UC Santa Cruz as a student only.
“This season was absolutely amazing,” she said of her team that went 22-11 and 8-5 for third place in the Pacific League. “We had some bumps in the road regarding negativity right before the season started, but once we figured it out, we were freed of this problem.”
Acosta went on: “Everything went smoothly, and we ended up making our amazing playoff run to semifinals. About halfway through our season, we all got very close as teammates and friends, and this factor helped us win a ton of games together as a team,” she added. “Every player on Burroughs softball contributed to our wins and successes, and we fought together until we couldn’t fight any longer.”
Doug Nicol, who just stepped down from the program after two stints as the coach, appreciated Acosta, the person.
“Kelsey was an absolute joy to coach. We connected from Day 1. She is so humble and doesn’t have a selfish bone in her body and was always there to support her teammates,” he said. “It was always about the team, and she never wanted the attention to be on her. That is pretty remarkable considering she was a four-year varsity letter winner, a two-time All-Pacific League first-team selection and a scholar-athlete all four years in the program. Through it all, she always remained humble and never asked for any special treatment or attention. In fact, I don’t think I ever heard her say the word “me”. A true team player and a great representative for our school and program.”
Acosta was a pitcher and played second base. They were both challenging and rewarding.
In the circle, Acosta went 11-8 across 108 and one-third innings, posting a 2.39 earned-run average, striking out 118, walking 31 with 11 complete games and four shutouts, this season.
“As much as I love being a pitcher and being in control of the game, I really do love playing out in the field at second base,” Acosta admitted. “Being a pitcher involves huge amounts of stress and pressure but being out on the field allowed me to calm down a little bit so I could focus more on my hitting and fielding. I’ve always been willing to play either position, whatever would benefit our team the most.”
It’s going to be tough to duplicate what it was like on game day and playing for Acosta, who batted .343 with 23 hits, seven runs batted in, 10 runs scored and four doubles.
“I loved my experience and time at John Burroughs softball, our program has always been filled with such talented girls who really do care about one another,” she said. “The coaching staff is one of the most caring groups of coaches I’ve ever known, and they know how to let us have fun, while also being serious and in the zone. I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better high school softball experience.”
Nicol knows this firsthand. “Kelsey is so good and so talented. She was our No. 1 pitcher the past three years and will go down as one of the most accomplished pitchers in Burroughs history. However, while she was a very good pitcher, she might have been an even better infielder,” he said. “She is so smooth and makes plays effortlessly. If she wanted to, she could have played Division I softball as an infielder…she is that good. She played a lot of second base for us this year and played it flawlessly. She is hands-down the best second baseman to play at Burroughs in the past 10-15 years, and maybe in the history of the school. She is just an exceptional athlete with incredible skills but makes plays so effortlessly that she makes hard plays look easy. It was fun to watch every day.”
Every game was special for Acosta, but some stood taller than others.
“One game that stands out in my mind is our third game against Crescenta Valley. After taking a hard loss in our second game against them, we really came out and gave them a taste of their own medicine in the last few innings,” she said. “We went from losing by a few runs, to beating them by five runs. We rallied so hard, that win was one of the most satisfying wins of my career. We had all been waiting for that solid win for so long.”
Much of Acosta’s success on the field was a matter of mind over matter.
“Whenever I approach game days, I would simply try to calm my mind and tell myself that in the end, we’re all just playing a game,” she noted. “I have confidence in myself and my abilities, all I need to do is play calmly and smoothly and have faith in myself and my team.”
Acosta cited an example of how she used her mind, but one game in particular was tougher than others.
“In most games I played in, I could easily block out the fans and the noise. However, in the Burbank versus Burroughs games, it was a different story. I had never really experienced people yelling personal things at me until these games, and it was a little hard to deal with at first,” she pointed out. “By the third round against them, I had realized that “our haters are our biggest motivators,” this is something that Gigi Garcia would always preach to us, and it really helped. I would use other fans’ words as motivation to play well, and it worked.”
The bonds this team shared helped it get to the semifinals, according to Acosta.
“The majority of our team has played together as teammates in the past, so a lot of us have had tight relationships together from back then. About halfway through our season, something clicked within us all and we just started having so much fun together,” she said. “We all understood each other’s senses of humor, and we made our times at practice endless fun.”
Acosta added: “When we would go through tough times, we would all be there for each other,” she said. “After our loss to Burbank this year, Coach Doug had us all sit down in a circle and talk through everything we’ve been feeling about the season and about each other. This talk circle really felt like therapy, and it brought us all so much closer than we already were. I will never forget this team, one of the best.”
Talented, gritty and determined describes this group of young women.
“After losing a game, we all came together and accepted it, and did not let it affect our future play. We know that we’re going to both win and lose games, it’s a part of the sport,” Acosta said.” As long as we came out firing on all cylinders in the next game, we knew we would be okay.”
Like many who play sports, COVID-19 threw everything upside down. It did for Acosta.
“The only thing I would change about my time in the John Burroughs softball program is actually getting to play a sophomore year season,” she said. “Being robbed of that really sucked, but there’s nothing we could’ve done about it.”
Acosta will take with her the knowledge and experience from every game she participated in.
“The biggest life lesson I’ve learned during my time in this program is simply to never give up on yourself, or your team,” she said. “We have had so many comeback wins that have inspired me and helped me believe that anything is possible. I will carry these learning experiences with me for the rest of my life.”
Nicol summarized what Acosta has meant to him and the Burroughs softball program.
“I am going to miss Kelsey so much, as I will this entire senior class. Kelsey would agree that her success is the direct result of the support of her teammates, especially the seniors she spent four years in the program with,” he said. “They all blended so well with each other and made it easy to coach them. Along with Kelsey, seniors Isabella Scozzola, Gigi Garcia, Kiley Christopher, Arley Pena and Kaynan Chrysikos all laid the foundation and created a culture of accountability, hard work, positivity and support for one another. That is what led to our success this year and Kelsey was a major part of that “Mamba Mentality” culture.”
Nicol continued: “She is loved and respected by all of her teammates and coaches, and that is because of the type of person that she is, and that will take her far in life,” he pointed out. “We had such a successful season this year…22 wins, CIF semifinalists and qualifying for the CIF state tournament. Kelsey’s willingness to sacrifice personal goals for the good of the team, and always support her teammates, was a major factor in that success this year. It was a blessing to coach her, and I will always be grateful to her for everything she did for our program.”