Prep Newsmaker: McGilbert sparked KC at state

Sophomore batted nearly .600 in the state tournament last week

Jake Newby
jnewby@pnj.com
Kirtland Central's Dominique McGilbert poses for a portrait on Monday at Kirtland Central High School.
  • Dominique McGilbert had two home runs, three runs batted in and seven runs in the state tourney.
  • KC was fourth in Class 4A, a surprise for a school without much post-season success recently.
  • Coach Cody Gilmore says an adjustment to McGilbert's swing made a difference in the tournament.
  • McGilbert and two other soon-to-be-juniors could make Kirtland Central a contender next year.

KIRTLAND — Last week's improbable playoff run by the Kirtland Central softball team wouldn't have been possible without sophomore Dominique McGilbert's timely hot streak.

KC's regular-season leader in every major offensive category, McGilbert was even better during the 4A state softball tournament, batting a robust .571 with two home runs, three runs batted in and seven runs scored.

In the first round, the Lady Broncos enjoyed a comeback victory over No. 9 West Las Vegas, scoring three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to steal the game from the Lady Dons. McGilbert contributed to that seventh-inning rally with a double.

Then in Rio Rancho on Wednesday morning, KC suffered a 13-3 defeat at Robertson's hands before surging through the consolation rounds. The Lady Broncos first downed District 1-4A-rival Bloomfield later on Wednesday before shocking No. 2 Portales 6-5 on Thursday, courtesy of a McGilbert walk-off home run.

McGilbert said that typically, the only thing on her mind when stepping into the batter's box is getting on base. But KC's No. 2 hitter in the lineup did much more than that upon receiving Portales pitcher Wendy Baeza's 2-0 pitch in the bottom of the seventh.

"When I got up to bat, I told myself, 'Just get a base hit,' like I always tell myself," McGilbert said. "But she threw me a fastball inside, and I took it, and put everything I had into it."

The home run — McGilbert's second of the game — pushed KC into the semifinal round of the consolation bracket against Hope Christian, where the exhausted Lady Broncos were finally eliminated.

"I think (Hope Christian pitcher Marguerite Chavez) was putting a different spin on the ball than we were used to seeing," McGilbert said. "We were just tired by then, and that turf was really hot. That made it worse, I kept burning my feet."

The 5-3 loss to the Lady Huskies meant KC finished fourth overall in Class 4A, a major feat for a school that failed to make it out of the first round the previous seven seasons.

McGilbert, the team's starting shortstop, led the Lady Broncos with a .478 batting average, and she also paced the team in hits, runs, homers, doubles and triples during the regular season. But it was a small tweak to her swing that first-year coach Cody Gilmore believes took her game to new heights in the playoffs.

"She's really, really, really coachable," Gilmore said. "Before we left for state, we studied her swing, and we actually got some good advice from (baseball coach Bryan Wardroup). He noticed when she'd make her step, her head would change levels. He was like, 'Just keep your head on a good, straight level.'"

McGilbert's emergence as one of the best, most complete softball players in 1-4A was almost as improbable as KC's deep post-season run. McGilbert said a falling out with former head coach Roddy Yellowman led her to quit the softball team halfway through her freshman season. She said she planned to run track this spring until the last minute.

"When the season was getting close to starting, I kept thinking I would regret it if I stopped playing softball," she said.

There was some rust at the beginning, especially in the field, but McGilbert said she's glad she returned to the diamond. Gilmore said McGilbert's refusal to settle for being just good, rather than great, helped her break out.

"She sets herself to a higher standard. Off the field, if she gets B's, she's upset about it," Gilmore said. "She works hard in the classroom, she works hard on the field and she works hard in the weight room. Obviously, being our No. 2 hitter and shortstop, those are two big, key spots, and we trust her."

Moving up to Class 5A next season will make it difficult for KC to replicate the success it found in the 2015 season and playoffs. But a talented trio of soon-to-be juniors — McGilbert, Moriah Toledo and Andrea Weaver — could still make Kirtland Central a force to be reckoned with next year. Especially, Gilmore said, if McGilbert works as hard as she did this season.

"From what I saw from the first of this year to the end of this year, she just continued to progress," he said. "The sky's the limit for her, if she keeps working her tail off. Any college would love to have her, and I know that's a bold statement to make about a sophomore, but I truly believe that."

Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577. 

A closer look: Dominique McGilbert

1. Favorite team?

"Boston Red Sox."

2. Favorite athlete?

"I have two: Softball players Haylie McCleney from Alabama and Sierra Romero from Michigan."

3. Favorite food?

"Spaghetti."

4. Favorite movie?

"Grownups 2."

5. Favorite subject in school?

"Chemistry."

6. Least favorite subject?

"I don't have one."

7. Biggest fear?

"Animals."

8. Do you play any other sports?

"Volleyball and cross-country."

9. What is the first thing you would do with $1 million?

"I'd give most of it to my family."

10. Do you have any pregame rituals?

"We listen to a pump-up playlist."