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Softball: Many gather to honor former Mater Dei pitcher Brianne Matthews

March 5, 2010 |  9:13 pm

An estimated 1,500 people gathered Friday at the Huntington Beach Sports Complex for Brianne Matthews' memorial service.

Before the service began, hundreds of people waited in line to hug family members of the star softball pitcher for Santa Ana Mater Dei. And high school softball and club teams huddled together, fully clad in their uniforms, consoling one other as they shed tears. 

Matthews committed suicide at her Anaheim apartment on Feb. 25. The 16-year-old sophomore had a 4.0 grade-point average and had committed to play at the University of Arizona. 

Her coaches and friends recalled her athletic and academic success, her infectious smile and her effervescent laugh. 

"Her softball talent was obvious, but her personality was what was most remarkable about her," said Orange County Batbuster Coach Gary Haning. "My memory of Bri will be of those of a rainbow, a shooting star, a sunrise. It's not diminished by its brevity; you only wish it could still go on."

Haning stressed to everyone in attendance that in times of pain and sadness there are always people to talk to and people who care. 

"Keep this in mind when you don't think you can go on," Haning said. "Look at all of the people here whose life she touched -- and this is just a small percentage."

Bill Jackson, who coached Matthews when she was 11 to 14 on Firecrackers 93, said that he knew Matthews was remarkable the instant he met her. After all, she promised him that she'd throw the ball 65 mph when she turned 12, and she kept her word. 

"She was the hardest-working athlete I've ever seen," Jackson said.  

Jackson said that he refuses to discuss why Matthews took her life, and encouraged others to follow his example. 

"By discussing why, we're implying that there's a reason that could be good enough. There isn't. Bri died of a broken heart. I believe she made a horrible decision in a moment of weakness," Jackson said. 

A Mater Dei softball teammate, Alyssa Yglesias, said the first thing that she noticed about Matthews was her wide smile and loving nature. 

Yglesias admitted that she's not an affectionate person, but said that changed after Matthews chased her around the school and gave her hugs. 

"I like affection now," Yglesias said. 

The Mater Dei softball team is devoting this season to their departed teammate. 

"Bri is our 10th man," said Mater Dei pitcher Miranda Tamayo. "Although there's only nine players on the field, she's our 10th player on the field with us."

Matthews' catcher on the Orange County Batbusters, Shannon Bustillos, choked back tears as she spoke about her close friend.  

"A bond between a pitcher and a catcher is like none other," Bustillos said. 

The two girls used to meet every Wednesday to practice, and Matthews would always want to warm up before the warm-up and practice after practice.

When the girls worked out on treadmills, Bustillos used to speed up the belt on her machine to see how Matthews would react. Unfailingly, Matthews would then increase the speed on hers. 

"We'd both laugh," Bustillos said. 

Matthews' boyfriend, Camren Collins-Cepeda, said that he only knew Matthews for six months, but it felt like a lifetime. Matthews was more than a girlfriend to him, he explained; she was his best friend. 

"Bri had a way to make me feel like everything would be OK," Collins-Cepeda said. "I'll see you in heaven, baby girl. I love you."

Matthews' mother, Nadia Martinez, closed the service. 

"I didn't prepare anything because I went round and round trying to think of appropriate things to say, and there aren't any," she said.

"Thank you all for being here. I appreciate all of the kindness and love we've received over the past week."

-- Melissa Rohlin