Lady Bruins take down Whitney, earn section championship | TheUnion.com

Lady Bruins take down Whitney, earn section championship

Sacramento – Duane Zauner and the Bear River softball team couldn’t have written a better ending if they had scripted it themselves.

With timely hitting, dominant pitching and stellar play in the field, the Lady Bruins trampled Whitney 9-3 Wednesday to capture the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III Championship.

“It won’t really hit me until midnight,” Zauner said. “It’s a dream, it’s something you drive for, something the kids drive for, and it’s just awesome.”

The Lady Bruins tore through the playoff bracket, never dropping a game on their way to a fifth section championship in six years and first since being bumped up to Division III in 2011, solidifying the Lady Bruin softball dynasty.

Bear River didn’t have to wait long to strike the first blow as Stephanie Ceo led off the bottom of the first with a solo home run over the left-center field fence.

“It all started with (Ceo),” Zauner said. “She bangs the homer and then goes out and fields two ground balls cleanly. Texas has got a peach. She’s done great all year, and she talks with her play.”

The University of Texas-bound shortstop went 3-for-4 with two home runs, including a grand slam in the fourth inning to bust the game wide open for Bear River. Ceo also scored three times and stole a base to go with her five RBI.

“I really focused on seeing the ball into my bat today,” Ceo said. “Everyone knows I can drop a bunt, but not everyone knows I can hit home runs, so I took advantage of that.”

Ceo’s two home runs in one game is the only time a Lady Bruin has accomplished that feat, Zauner said.

Down 6-0 in the sixth, Whitney battled back, cutting the Bear River lead in half with a three-run inning.

Not intimidated by the Whitney rally, the Lady Bruins came out in the bottom of the sixth and put three runs of their own on the board to slam the door on any comeback attempt.

Bear River got strong offensive performances from much of its lineup as Alli Thill, Cambria Holcomb, Jenny Astwood, Erin Nichol, Alyssa Reina and Mackenzie Hollister all tallied hits. Holcomb, Nichol and Hollister also drove in a run each.

Keeping the Lady Wildcats off balance for much of the game was Bear River’s Nichol. The strong-armed righty went 5 2/3 innings and allowed seven hits and one earned run.

“I knew I had to do this for my team,” Nichol said. “A lot of us have been working toward this for four years.”

The pitching didn’t drop off when Maddie Phelps came into close the game. Phelps pitched 1 1/3 innings without allowing a hit.

“We’re different pitchers and best friends,” Nichol said of her and Phelps. “We have complete trust in the other person to come in and finish the game.”

For Bear River the win is the end of an era as Zauner is retiring after 18 years at the helm and nine Lady Bruins will graduate next month.

“Its a great way to end the season,” Ceo said. “I love every one of these girls, and we deserved it today.”

To contact Sports Writer Walter Ford, email wford@theunion.com or call the Sports department at (530) 477-4232.