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‘We refuse to lose’

STOCKTON Ð Huddled at the feet of their coach, a bunch of Bear River Bruins were beaming with pride after having just wrapped up the first softball section championship in school history Saturday afternoon.

Their skipper, who has coached and taught at Bear River for each of the 21 years of that history, searched for the words to make sense of what just happened when the Bruins defeated the East Union Lancers 1-0 to claim the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV banner.

In storybook fashion, the Bruins scored the game-winning run in a one-hit pitching performance by junior Kelly Shepard, when freshman Courtney Ceo stole home in the third inning.



“I really want to thank you,” Duane Zauner began, “for not giving up, for reaching deep and finding something you’re going to use the rest of your lives.

“It’s an amazing accomplishment. This doesn’t happen to many players.”




And it certainly doesn’t happen very often in such a show of resiliency.

After falling to the same East Union team 1-0 in Friday night’s winner’s bracket semifinal, the Bruins were forced to play three more games to make school history. In a second game Friday night, Bear River downed Pioneer Valley League rival Whitney for the third time this season, scoring a 4-2 win.

That victory earned the Bruins the right to face East Union, the Valley Oak League champions who had won 12 straight games entering Saturday’s championship round. And when a team takes the field against the Lancers (24-7), it means facing one of the top pitchers in all of California.

Erin Arevalo, an East Union junior righthander, led the state in strikeouts this season with 430. Thirty- eight of those came in her final three games, all against Bear River’s Bruins. In Saturday’s doubleheader under a scorching hot sun, Arevalo totaled 27 strikeouts and allowed 10 hits in 18 innings of work.

Twice this season, Arevalo racked up as many as 20 strikeouts. She sat down 21 in a 3-0, one-hit shutout of VOL rival Oakdale on April 25.

“We knew she was good,” said Bear River senior Ashley Sawyer. “Her stats proved that, but we weren’t going to quit that easily.

“That’s the good thing about our team, we refuse to lose.”

That was clearly the case in the tournament opener, when Bear River battled back to bounce two-time defending section champion Oakdale out of the tournament. The Bruins trailed 2-1 in the seventh inning – and again, 3-2, in the eighth inning – before forcing extra frames with bottom-half-of-the-inning comebacks in a 4-3 victory in 10 innings.

“Great teams find a way to win,” Zauner said. “Against Oakdale there were two times we were down to our last strike. Destiny, I guess; yes, destiny is a big factor.”

During Saturday afternoon’s first game, the Bruins twice held one-run leads. Bear River took a 1-0 advantage in the fifth inning when sophomore Tori Humbard drove Kathie Mathis across with an RBI single slapped into center field. East Union answered with a run in the sixth inning off a pair of rare Bruin throwing errors.

Bear River was back on top in the 10th inning when Humbard’s sacrifice fly to center scored Kelly Shepard for a 2-1 lead. But the Lancers came back in the bottom half with an RBI single by Arevalo to send the contest into the 11th inning.

The Bruins broke the game open with four runs in the frame off hits by junior Jasmine McGown and Courtney Ceo and Sawyer. The cushion was more than Bear River senior pitcher Britney Ceo needed to secure the win.

A four-year starter for the Bruins, Britney Ceo had shown the true grit of her team just an inning earlier when East Union had the bases loaded with one out. Ceo then struck out the next two Lancers to end the 10th inning.

“It was scary,” said Ceo, who had six strikeouts while scattering eight hits in 11 innings of action. “I knew Kelly and I both had a lot of support behind us. It’s not just us out there. We know even if (hitters) get a piece of it, it’s going to be an out.”

Ceo, who along with Sawyer will be the only two Bruins graduating this spring, said winning the section championship with her two sisters – Courtney and Natalie, a junior – is a special moment they will always share. And, she added, it sets the table for the returning members of the program.

“We talked all year about setting a foundation and building on that foundation,” she said. “The foundation is there now.”

The season was one full of firsts for the Bruins, including the first league championship since 1996, the first trip to the championship game and the first time a Bear River softball team has won 28 games.

“We’re real excited for our team’s seniors,” said Shepard, who struck out seven, walked two and allowed just one hit in the six innings she threw in the final game. “We wanted to do this for them. This is their last year, and we wanted to give them the best time of their lives.”

As they scratched out just three hits while Arevalo struck them out 13 times in the final, the Bruins had to get creative in manufacturing the game’s only run. Courtney Ceo led off the third inning with a single to center field, stole second base and moved to third after an error on the play.

“There were two outs, and we weren’t hitting the ball,” Zauner said. “I just told her, with her speed, to get a huge lead, and when they throw down here, go to the plate.”

The speedy shortstop, however, stumbled for a split second, which she said might have actually helped make the play a success.

“Once I slipped, it scared me a little,” she said. “But when I saw the catcher run up and throw it and that the pitcher didn’t cover, I knew I could get in.”

The game-winning play, Zauner said, wouldn’t have meant much without the performance of his pitchers Saturday. Though they were matched up with one of the best in California, he said Britney Ceo and Shepard rose to the occasion.

“Our pitchers threw exceptionally well,” he said. “Our defense played exceptionally well, too. We could have used more hits, but we did enough at the plate to win.

“It’s just an amazing feat for these kids.”

ooo

Contact Sports Editor Brian Hamilton via e-mail at brianh@theunion.com or by phone at 477-4240.

SAC-JOAQUIN SECTION

DIVISION IV

SOFTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP

Game 1

BEAR RIVER 6, EAST UNION 3

Bear River ab r h bi

C.Ceo 5 1 1 1

Sawyer 5 1 2 0

Wermes 5 0 0 0

Shepard 5 1 0 0

Rabak 5 0 0 0

Mathis 4 1 2 0

Humbard 3 1 2 2

B. Ceo 4 0 0 0

McGown 4 1 1 0

Totals 40 6 8 3

East Union ab r h bi

Perry 6 1 3 0

Goulart 4 1 1 0

Arevalo 4 0 1 2

Cook 4 0 0 0

Sellers 3 0 2 0

Lewallen 5 0 0 0

Dietrich 5 1 0 0

Brooks 3 0 1 0

Swift 5 0 0 0

Totals 39 3 8 2

Bear River 000 010 000 14 Ð 6 8 2

East Union 000 001 000 11 Ð 3 8 2

Pitching

Bear River IP R ER H K BB

B. Ceo 11 3 2 8 6 7

East Union IP R ER H K BB

Arevalo 11 6 3 8 14 0

Game 2

BEAR RIVER 1, EAST UNION 0

East Union ab r h bi

Perry 3 0 0 0

Goulart 3 0 1 0

Arevalo 3 0 0 0

Cook 2 0 0 0

Sellers 2 0 0 0

Dietrich 2 0 0 0

Zanini 0 0 0 0

Lewallen 2 0 0 0

Brooks 2 0 0 0

Swift 2 0 0 0

Totals 21 0 1 0

Bear River ab r h bi

C. Ceo 3 1 1 0

Sawyer 3 0 1 0

Wermes 3 0 0 0

Shepard 3 0 1 0

Rabak 1 0 0 0

Mathis 2 0 0 0

Humbard 2 0 0 0

Mosman 2 0 0 0

McGown 2 0 0 0

Totals 21 1 3 0

East Union 000 000 0 Ð 0 1 1

Bear River 001 000 x Ð 1 3 0

Pitching

Bear River IP R ER H K BB

Shepard 7 0 0 1 7 2

East Union IP R ER H K BB

Arevalo 6 1 1 3 13 1


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