AGUA?DULCE?ó Marissa Gonzalez has all the statistics to prove she can play high school baseball.

She was among Agua Dulce High School's leading hitters with a season-long batting average near .300 and an average of 1.2 RBIs a game. She ranked second on the team in run production and through 12 District 32-A games, she committed only a handful of errors at shortstop.

But to Longhorns coach Ricardo Vives, her validation comes from the respect she gets from her opponents. The all-boy teams she plays against don't treat her any differently because she's a girl playing a boys' game. If anything, they play her like the dangerous hitter she is.

When she stepped up to the plate for the first time in Thursday afternoon's game against Ben Bolt-Palito Blanco, the Badgers' infield didn't play up, nor did they seem to relax. Instead, they were on their toes and even motioned to the outfield, a quiet sign of respect for any batter.

"See! They know she can play," Vives said. "They know she's a hitter. I think every team we've played against this season has been like that. You can always hear them say that Marissa can hit."

Against the 32-A co-champions, Gonzalez drew a lead-off walk in her first at-bat represented the Longhorns' only real threat to score in the 19-0 loss.

No bad for the only girl playing high school baseball in the Coastal Bend. However, Gonzalez's gender isn't an issue on the baseball field. Maybe it was at one time and maybe she draws a stare or two each time she takes the field, but when it comes to the game, she's just one of the guys. For Agua Dulce, which rebuilt its baseball program this season, she's one of the team's best guys.

Her teammates are quick to admit her value to the team.

"She's up there with anyone on the field," Agua Dulce pinch-hitter Blake Anderson said. "She can play just as well as anyone out there. She can hit and field just as good as anyone too."

Gonzalez just smiles when she talks about playing baseball. The Agua Dulce senior isn't trying to break any barriers nor is she trying to prove anything. She simply wants to play ball, and in Agua Dulce, where the high school doesn't have a softball program, baseball is her only opportunity.

"I know I could play," she said. "I had played softball. Baseball is the same thing. The ball is just a little smaller and it sometimes moves a little faster."

From her freshman to junior year, she started for the Robstown Lady Cotton Pickers softball team. She even earned second-team all-district honors in 2009 and 2010. While she was a standout in Robstown, she thought her high school career was over when she moved in with her father in Agua Dulce.

Then when the Longhorns began gathering players to begin baseball at the school, Gonzalez asked Vives if she could play.

"She said she could play baseball, so I told her to step into the batting cage," he said. "I told her, 'If you can hit the ball, then you can play.' She hit the ball. Because we haven't played baseball in Agua Dulce for so long, we were building the team with mostly freshman who hadn't play baseball or who had only little experience. Right away, she was one of the most experienced players on the team."

In the Longhorns' first baseball season in years, they completed the 32-A season in fourth place, just a game out of third and a playoff spot. Vives said the program overachieved this season, and Gonzalez, who was the No. 5 batter on Agua Dulce's line-up this season, played a key role.

"I think some people may have seen her and thought, 'Oh, she's just a girl.' But, people who know baseball thought, 'There's a reason she's batting fifth.'

ďAs a team, our inexperience caught up with us this season, but Marissa was someone we counted on all year."