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Bruins take a shot at title today

Mike Viola has said for years that if his Bruins could have advanced out of the first round of action in the Sac-Joaquin Section baseball playoffs, Bear River stood as good of a chance as any team in reaching the title game.

In the previous four postseason appearances the Bruins made – the only four in school history prior to the fifth this season – each playoff run was a one-and-done story.

It seemed the Bruins were snakebitten.



At noon today, however, Viola and his south county crew will finally take the field in the title game for which they’ve been shooting.

Bear River (20-6-2), the Pioneer Valley League co-champion, squares off with the Oakdale Mustangs (26-4), champions of the Valley Oak League, in the Division IV championship game at American River College.




“They’re ready,” Viola said Sunday afternoon. “They’re looking forward to it. I told them it’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime things. You may never get another chance to play for a section championship.

“It doesn’t matter how good you are, sometimes it just doesn’t go your way.”

Viola speaks from experience. Many believed the 2006 Bruins to be odds-on favorites to find themselves playing for a section title, after Bear River rolled up a 22-1 regular season record with a team loaded in talent.

That squad seemed to be the culmination of a four-year plan for constructing a champion.

In 2003, the Bruins went 11-11 and reached the playoffs for the first time in school history.

A year later, they’d claimed the first share of a league championship, while playing through a 16-7 campaign. The 2005 team won the same number of games, posting a 16-9-1 record, but promised so much more for the next spring with just two seniors on the squad.

But instead of capping off a four-year building process by claiming a section crown, the 2006 Bruins were bounced from the tournament in the first round for the fourth straight season, after falling 4-2 to Vanden.

Once the 2007 Bruins broke through the first round in emphatic fashion, with an 11-1 win over Sonora, Bear River found a way to pull through a pair of tight games (9-8, 8-5) with Center to earn the championship berth.

Now they’ll be facing an old nemesis and one Viola knows will be a challenge. Oakdale was the team to eliminate Bear River from first round action two years ago in a 3-0 verdict. Viola said it’s likely that he will turn to southpaw starter Brandon King to even up the postseason history between the two schools.

King, who threw a five-inning perfect game in a 17-0 win over Whitney in April, has kept hitters off balance for most the season. The 5-foot, 11-inch junior owns a 5-1 record and a 2.71 earned run average.

“We’ve got everybody ready. Everybody could go for us,” Viola said of his stable of starting pitchers. “Oakdale hits everybody. They’re notorious for being able to hit the fastball.

“Most high school teams struggle with making adjustments and with Brandon, you’ve got to make adjustments. He’s off-speed, he’s a lefty and he’s got a good curveball.”

Over the course of five years, Bear River baseball has won nearly 70 percent of its games in posting an 85-35-3 record, but today is the first time the cardinal and gray will be on the field for a title shot. In Bear River’s first four playoff games – all losses – the Bruins fell by a total of seven runs.

“All it takes is one bad day,” Viola said looking back at the previous playoff disappointments. “I told the guys to be sure and take this all in, enjoy it and leave it all on the field.”

The Division IV championship will be one of three title games to hit the field at ARC today. Bella Vista and Yuba City will meet in the Division III championship at 3 p.m., followed by the Division II title game between Granite Bay and Rocklin at 6 p.m.

ooo

To contact Sports Editor Brian Hamilton, e-mail brianh@theunion.com or call 477-4240.

BOX INFO:

Sac-Joaquin Section

Division IV Baseball

Championship

At American River College

Bear River Bruins (20-6-2)

vs. Oakdale Mustangs (26-4)

Admission: $8 adults/$5 students w/ID

Directions: From I-80 take the Madison Avenue exit and go east a couple of blocks until you reach College Oak Drive. Turn right (south) on College Oak Drive. The college is on that street a couple of blocks south of Madison Avenue.


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