Things just got interesting in the race for the Pioneer Valley League softball crown.
The Lincoln Lady Zebras went into Bear River Thursday and handed the Lady Bruins their first league loss of the season, 8-5, to pull even with the Lady Bruins atop the PVL standings.
Coming into Thursday’s game, Bear River had been steamrolling its league competition, going 6-0 and outscoring their PVL opponents by a combined score of 32-3.
The Lady Zebras (12-8, 6-1 PVL) were not impressed.
Lincoln got to Bear River’s sophomore pitcher Nerissa Long early in the game and never let up, scoring two runs in the first inning, three in the fourth, and one in the fifth before Long gave way to Arielle Koerber.
Long (12-4), who had allowed just three runs in six league games leading up to Thursday’s contest, allowed a total of six runs, four of which were earned, 10 hits and two walks while striking out eight.
After Koerber took over, Lincoln scored just two runs in the final two innings, both of which were unearned. Bear River committed five errors in the game.
“They beat us,” Bear River head coach Duane Zauner said. “They outplayed us. They hit the ball well, they made the plays and we didn’t. We had four balls fall out of gloves. Those are plays we need to make. That’s what they need to understand — that no matter how good you think you are, you need to make the plays.”
After falling behind 2-0 in the first inning, Bear River answered with two of its own in the bottom of the first when Long tallied an RBI single and Mikayla Laymance drove in a run with an RBI sacrifice fly.
Laymance gave the Lady Bruins the lead in the third when she smoked a triple off the right field fence, plating Maddi Ferri, who had walked earlier in the inning. Laymance would also add an RBI double in the bottom of the seventh. The junior catcher finished the day 2-for-3 with three RBIs.
Bear River also got help offensively from senior Rachel Last, who went 1-for-3 with a single, a run scored and two stolen bases. Ferri walked twice and scored both times she reached. Long finished 2-for-3 with an RBI and a walk. Koerber was 1-for-4 with a run scored and senior Dayna Wicks came through with an RBI double in the seventh.
The Lady Bruins put runners on in every inning but one, but they also left runners on in every inning but one. Nine in all were left stranded.
After the first inning, Long looked to have settled down, getting out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the second and striking out the side in the third. In the fourth, however, the Lady Zebras plated three, two of which came on an error.
The four earned runs given up by Long ties the most she has given up this season in any game, the other coming against Union Mine, a non-league foe.
For Lincoln, Alexis Smith did a lot of damage at the leadoff spot, going 3-for-4 with two runs scored. Matty Cunningham also hurt the Lady Bruins with a double, a run scored and three RBIs.
Throwing a complete game for the Lincoln was freshman Alexis Sheiring, going seven innings, striking out one, walking four and yielding eight hits.
It is the second time this season the Lady Bruins have lost to a team they had previously beaten. Bear River had topped Lincoln 2-0 earlier this season. The other team to exact revenge was Union Mine.
The loss drops Bear River into a tie with Lincoln for first place in the PVL, with Placer (12-6, 4-3 PVL) not far behind.
“It makes it tough, but it’s still our own destiny,” Zauner said. “I told the girls ‘you win three straight league games and you put a banner up. So, it’s still in our grasp.”
For the Lady Bruins (14-4, 6-1 PVL), the loss also soured the team’s senior day.
Last and Wicks are the only two Bear River seniors on the team, and Zauner said they will be missed.
“They mean a lot,” he said of Last and Wicks. “They have put in a lot of time and effort, seven years of varsity experience between them. It’s going to be hard to replace them.”
The Lady Bruins step out of league play for the weekend, traveling to Tracy for a tournament, but get back into the throws of PVL play Tuesday at Foothill.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.