Nicole Yniguez isn’t afraid to stand out. With her signature fake lashes, fresh fluorescent eye shadow, glitter on her hair and face, and bows on her ponytail, the Dons star pitcher arrives up to an hour before every game.
She picks up a rake to comb the dirt, checks the team’s water supply, takes out bats and gloves and cleans the other team’s dugout. Once she’s done, she runs around to see if any of her teammates or coaches need anything.
“Nicole is a leader but not a vocal one. She’s a leader in the sense that she shows it. Her actions are going to tell the people around her how to perform,” Dons Assistant Coach Marissa Ross says.
Yniguez, who played for Santiago Canyon College last year, is the ace for Santa Ana this season and her performance on the mound is giving the Dons a chance for a deep run in the playoffs.
The Dons are currently ranked No. 3 in Southern California and No. 5 in state rankings, with a win over SoCal’s No. 1 Mt. San Antonio College.
Yniguez is currently in second place for most wins in the Orange Empire Conference with 13 wins. She is ranked fourth in ERA at 1.95 and fourth in strikeouts with 70 over 26 games.
“We have a great chance of winning with her on the mound because she’s so good,” Head Coach Kim Nutter says.
Nicole started playing softball at 7 years old when her parents signed her and her older sister up for recreational ball. She initially did not want to do the same thing as her sister, but after watching how the older kids played, her competitive nature helped her fall in love with the sport. When the coached asked for players to pitch, she volunteered.
“My hand shot up, and I haven’t wanted to leave the circle since,” Yniguez says.
At El Modena High School in Orange, Yniguez was an accomplished pitcher who played varsity her freshman year. Teammates remember Nicole as a confident player who always kept a good attitude whether the team won or lost.
But when she enrolled at SCC last fall, Nicole was not used right away. She did not pitch until the middle of the season, but led the Hawks to the playoffs, where they ultimately lost to fourth seed El Camino College.
After her first season of college play, Yniguez decided to transfer to SAC to take advantage of what she says is a more competitive coaching style. Nicole started pitching as soon as this season started and led the Dons to win three out of the first five games.
“SAC has more to offer academically and the coaching style and philosophy is a better fit [for me],” Nicole, a business major who maintains a 4.0 GPA, says.
This season, Yniguez led the Dons to two wins over her former school, the first ending with a 12-2 loss for the Hawks; the second game was 2-1.
Playing against SCC doesn’t phase Yniguez.
“I like to spend as much time as I can in the circle, earn as many wins and strikeouts as possible and help [the Dons] be first in the conference and go all the way to state finals,” Yniguez says.