It might have only been 11 plate appearances and parts of four games, but for North Arlington’s Rhi’Anna Gomez, it was a hitting slump that must have felt much longer.
After hitting .455 over her first two seasons, the 1-for-9 start at the plate was jarring for the Vikings’ star junior.
“(Head coach Kevin Blackwell) told me that I just needed more confidence in myself,” said Gomez. “Going into the season he told me that this was going to be a good season for me and I felt like I put too much pressure on myself. Knowing that he told me that he sees me being anxious and that he wants me to be confident really helped me.”
“Watching her those first two weeks, it was just one hit, but everything was hit hard right at people,” Blackwell said. “It wasn’t a matter of if she was going to turn it around, but a matter of when.”
The ‘when’ came in the seventh inning of North Arlington’s April 13 game at Secaucus, when Gomez slugged a two-run home run over the fence. The hitting hasn’t stopped since.
Starting with the homer that sealed a 6-3 victory, Gomez has gone 12-for-18 with 10 RBI, nine runs scored and seven stolen bases. During that time, the Vikings have gone 3-3
She slugged home runs in three consecutive games, including a pivotal blast in a 13-12 win at Harrison last Monday. This past Friday at Lyndhurst, Gomez went 3-for-4 with a walk, four runs, three RBI, a triple, a double and two stolen bases in a win at Lyndhurst. Less than 24 hours later, at the Breathe Easy Tournament in Rutherford, Gomez added another three hits with two RBI against Pascack Valley.
The suddenly unstoppable Gomez is The Observer Athlete of the Week thanks to this current hot streak, which according to her is as strong as any she’s enjoyed during her varsity career.
“I can say that these last few games have definitely been the best games I’ve played,” said Gomez, who plays for East Coast Tsunami out of Montclair during the summer. “I think it’s probably the most I’ve hit over the last few years of playing.”
“Every time she goes up there and gets that big hit, the energy level just increases from everyone,” Blackwell said. “It lifts everyone up. She’s always up for that big hit when we need it.”
With her early-season slump now a distant memory, Gomez’s season statline is reflective of her status as one of North Jersey’s best outfielders with a .481 average, 12 RBI, 10 runs and seven stolen bases.
But unlike her freshman and sophomore seasons, Gomez is combining that high average with big-time power. With eight extra-base hits, Gomez has more than doubled her total from last season and her four home runs are two more than her previous career high.
Through nine games, Gomez has an eye-popping slugging percentage of 1.148 as she has certainly made good on her goal of hitting for more power this year. It was a goal shared by Blackwell.
“I talked to her at the beginning of the season and I said that you’re a great hitter, but we also need the power numbers to increase this year,” Blackwell said. “She’s someone who I know who is up for a challenge and she’s someone who’s going to adapt. She knows exactly what her plan of attack is each at-bat.”
In addition to her hitting, Gomez has been a stellar defensive center fielder for the last three years at North Arlington.
With six underclassmen starting most games, Gomez has also emerged as a leader for this young team.
For Gomez, the last six games aren’t just proof of what she’s capable of at the plate, but also a reminder that North Arlington has the potential to do things it hasn’t in recent memory.
But rather than put added pressure from a defined goal like a 100 hits, Gomez’s focus for the rest of the season is to simply keep hitting and this young team to continue developing.
“I just want to honestly maintain my hitting and have a good bond with everybody,” Gomez said “I want us to all end with a good season, something we can say we’re proud of.”
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)