PREP SOFTBALL: Bear River Lady Bruins bring hot bats into next round of playoffs | TheUnion.com

PREP SOFTBALL: Bear River Lady Bruins bring hot bats into next round of playoffs

The Bear River softball team has been on a tear of late and it couldn't have come at a better time.

The Lady Bruins were on the verge of missing out on the playoffs for the first time in a decade when their offense came to life. Needing back-to-back wins on the last day of Pioneer Valley League play to earn a spot in the playoffs, Bear River topped Foothill, 13-1, and then knocked off Center, 12-0. It was just the fourth and fifth time the Lady Bruins had scored double digits during season up to that point. Bear River's blistering bats have carried over into the playoffs where the No. 5 seed Lady Bruins topped No. 4 seed Amador 10-3. In the last three games, Bear River has outscored its opponents 35-4.

"Now we're headed in the right direction and we will be playing schools that are our size," Bear River head coach Steve McCullough said after his team earned a spot in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V playoffs. "I'm very confident in our team and where we are at. I'm very confident in what we can accomplish."

Koerber's impact

A big reason for the Lady Bruins' recent offensive explosion has been the return of senior Arielle Koerber. The team's top pitcher and one of their best hitters returned two weeks ago after missing much of the season with an injury. Since her return, she has played in four games and gone 10-for-17 from the plate with three doubles, a triple and eight RBIs. Koerber has also been impressive from the circle since her return, throwing 16 innings and allowing three earned runs her last three appearances.

Freshmen phenom

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The Lady Bruin that boasts the most pop this season has been freshmen catcher Justice Lewis, who leads the team with nine home runs and 25 RBIs to go with her .396 batting average. Lewis flexed her batting prowess against Amador, crushing two home runs and notching seven RBIs in the win. Over the past three games, Lewis is 5-for-9 with two home runs, a double and 10 RBIs.

Hot spots

In addition to Koerber and Lewis, several other Lady Bruins have also been potent from the plate. Junior Kaitlyn Maddux leads the team with 28 hits this season and is 7-for-11 with two doubles and two RBIs across the last three games. Kayla Toft has really come on as of late with five hits and two RBIs in the last three games. Taylor Borges has seven hits and three RBIs in the last three games. Mallory Borrego has four hits and three runs in the last three games and Kailynne VanWinkle has four hits in the same span.

"We are starting to find our stride and with people on the base too," said McCullough.

Up next

The Lady Bruins (8-12) have a tough task ahead of them as they face No. 1 Escalon at 11:30 p.m. today at Arnaiz Softball Complex in Stockton to open the double-elimination portion of the playoffs. A win sends Bear River directly into Tuesday's semifinals. A loss lands them in the losers bracket where they will have to play another game Saturday to earn a spot in the semifinals.

"I'm really looking forward to playing the No. 1 team," said McCullough. "I want to go after them and see where we stand.

"We are going in pretty loose. Just go in, play our best and try to knock them off."

Escalon (20-4), who won the Trans Valley League, comes into the contest on the heels of a 15-0 win over No. 8 seed Orestimba in the first round. Like the Lady Bruins, the Cougars are solid offensively with a .387 team batting average and scoring 8.8 runs per game.

Escalon also has several strong pitchers, including Chardae Hoskins, who is 9-1 this season with 104 strikeouts in 63 innings pitched and a 1.44 ERA.

"Our lineup needs to continue to hit, and they don't need to hit the home run. Just keep the bats going," McCullough said of his team's keys to victory. "And, we need Arielle (Koerber) to keep spinning the ball the way she is. She's doing a great job."

To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email wford@theunion.com.

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