Sac State softball shortstop thrived in her first season despite the positional switch

Batting .316, Nikki Barboza had the fourth-highest average on the Hornets this season


Spencer Fielding

Freshman shortstop Nikki Barboza posing at Shea Stadium on Monday, May 16, 2022. Barboza has a batting average of .316 this season.

Spencer Fielding

Sacramento State freshman shortstop Nikki Barboza had an adjustment curve when she arrived to the Hornet softball team, according to her. 

“I think the most difficult part to learn was kind of learning shortstop, but more so transitioning the mindset,” Barboza said. “So something that I would usually take my time with, you can’t do that at shortstop. You’re farther back and I think it’s just the third base mentality has been hard to change.”

After getting her first home run with the squad in the Louisville Slugger invitational, her mother said she knew her promising first year short-stop daughter was going to be just fine.

“I was almost in tears because, in travel ball, she would hit them (home runs) all the time, and college is different,” Nikki’s mother Diane Barboza said. . “She was so frustrated since she hadn’t hit one, and I was recording and I could hear my voice cracking, I wanted to cry. I was so happy for her, to see that smile on her face.”

Despite the various changes within Barboza’s first collegiate season, her confidence never waned.

Barboza started playing baseball first, at the age of 10,  and according to her, the transition from baseball to softball when she was 14 was anything but easy.

“It was very different because there are different throwing angles, then there’s the swing that’s really different, and so it was kind of challenging,” Barboza said. “I still get yelled at to this day about throwing over-the-top rather than side-arm. It was a big change.”

Barboza also added that there is a different logic in softball due to the sport having a smaller field, making everything  closer together and more condensed. At a young age, her former coach Bobby Flores said he always had faith in Barboza’s future.l. 

“From day one her goal was ‘I want to play Division I softball’ and you get those girls that you coach for a long time and you see their priorities,” Flores said. “But Nikki is one of those kids that would probably put softball behind faith and her family. That kid wouldn’t miss anything.”

Despite the challenges, Barboza fell in love with softball. She began to play in recreational leagues and eventually made her way up to travel ball leagues. This is where Barboza felt that she could play Division I softball.

14-year-old Nikki Barboza fields a ground ball in a childhood game. She started playing softball at the age of 14. ((Photo courtesy of Nikki Barboza))

“I started to believe that when I was 16,” Barboza said. “I forget which team I was playing, but it was a nationally ranked team and I made this super good play, which ended up being a double-play. I remember thinking, man if I could play off of them, then I can do it in college.”

Barboza also remembered hearing people talk about her at that age, saying she was good enough for the next level. This boosted her confidence going forward. 

Barboza had always been a great hitter. In high school, she hit .406 and smacked 19 home runs over her high school career. 

However, with her last two seasons getting canceled or shortened due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the transition from high school to Division I softball became even steeper, according to her.

“In all aspects of teammates, competition and all that, it’s obviously really big,” Barboza said. “In terms of competition, it’s bucked up. I went to a good high school, the league was kind of bad. But going from that pitching to this pitching is woah, it’s been a pretty big change.” 

Barboza had always been a third baseman prior to playing softball at Sac State. Since junior third baseman Lewa Day started  there, Barboza became the everyday shortstop. Despite being a freshman, coach Perez said he trusts her in such a pivotal position.

“Really for us, when we were training her during the fall and working her to kind of figure out exactly what position would fit, you could really tell that she could handle pressure situations,” head coach Lori Perez said. “When you play shortstop, you have to exhibit the ability to handle pressure situations, that was something that stood out for us.” 

Shortstop is considered by many players to be one of the most difficult positions in softball due to the number of moving pieces involved, and Barboza said she still has things to learn about the position. 

“There’s more thinking involved and more responsibilities at that position,” Barboza said. “Especially with a runner at first, but you have the steal, but then if she bunts you have third, you got all these little things you can’t forget and that’s not counting the responsibilities when the ball is hit in the outfield and the cuts you have to make. I’m still learning.”

While learning an entirely new position, Barboza said she also had to learn how to hit at the collegiate level as well; something Flores said she always believed that she would figure  out.

“She’s always been an outstanding hitter, not to sound bad, but I kind of expected her to do well,” Flores said. ”Not everyone adjusts to college so soon. Everybody that knows Nikki knows that she can hit the ball.” 

[File Photo] Nikki Barboza tells her team how many outs there are in the inning at Shea Stadium on March 17, 2022. Barboza went three-for-nine that weekend and racked up two runs batted in.
(Spencer Fielding)
In Barboza’s first 19 games before her first home run, she struggled at the plate as she was hitting .203. But she was able to turn it around. Overall for the season, Barboza had an average of .316, which places her in 18th place in the Big Sky Conference.

RELATED: Softball goes 1-4, narrowly avoid being swept in Louisville Slugger Invitational – The State Hornet

One of the most important aspects of Barboza’s life is her family, as they have always pushed her to get better, according to them. 

“I would say my whole family did,” Barboza said. “Because growing up with a single mom, she’s always told me, ‘I want you to have better than I did’, so all the practices I didn’t want to go to when I was younger, she always told me I needed to go, ‘you need it in the long run so you’re not lazy.’ My family always set me up to be successful.” 

Barboza said she is very close to her mother, who instilled a no cell phone policy when she  was in high school.

“She brought me bad grades her freshman year, and I said don’t bring me bad grades, always ask for help,” Diane Barboza said. “She brought me bad grades again so I took her phone away. I honestly think that helped her, because after I took it away, she never asked for it back. She was able to concentrate on her friends and school more.”

These lessons paid off  through her struggles early on, as Barboza said she was still motivated to break out of her early slump with some help.

“The support from my family and my friends,” Barboza said. “They have really pushed me because, at the beginning of the season,I struggled and hearing my family and coaches say hey you got this, and then  knowing that I’m better than that, I didn’t feel any doubt from anybody.” 

Barboza possesses one of the most important qualities in an athlete, and Perez saw that drive in her from the beginning. 

“She’s extremely competitive, she has a high level of competitiveness that will elevate her through any situation,” Perez said. “I think sometimes people play just because they like to play and be around their teammates, which I think is a huge part of it, but she’s got that intangible [skill] where she’s just going to do whatever it takes to get it done on the field for her team and her teammates.”

As the season went on, Barboza said she has seen her confidence rise, game-by-game. This confidence is important for her own play, according to her, but it also bleeds into the team and how confident they are in her. 


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As the season came to a close in Big Sky tournament loss to Weber State, Barboza said she still had a few goals to achieve before it came to an end.

“My goals are to try and not overdo or overcompensate what I am doing now,” Barboza said. “I want to keep what I’m doing now, and not do too much. Keep things simple, and the bigger things will come.”