Division IV bracket full of championship contenders | TheUnion.com

Division IV bracket full of championship contenders

Considering the two right arms that dueled in last year’s section championship are once again back in the pitcher’s circle this spring, many folks consider defending champion Bear River and runner-up East Union as the favorites to meet again for the title on Saturday afternoon.

But a quick glance at the Division IV bracket is enough to see that there are more contenders for the crown than just the Bruins and Lancers.

Joining last year’s finalists in this year’s hunt is a 26-1 Rio Linda club that is ranked fifth in the Division III state rankings, just ahead of Bear River (sixth) and East Union (10th).

“And the other two teams from the VOL (Valley Oak League) are beasts, too,” said Bear River coach Duane Zauner, whose team meets Sierra, one of those VOL squads, in first round action at 5 p.m. today.

“And another coach told me that he thought Sierra was the best in the VOL. They beat East Union 3-2 earlier this year. So, yeah, we’ve got a tough first-round game.”

The Timberwolves come out of Manteca with a 17-9-1 overall record and are winners of their final four games, including the aforementioned win over East Union. Heather Scharmann leads the team at the plate with a .481 average, four home runs and 27 RBIs, while Karissa Valdez carries a .449 average and 27 RBIs.

“They’re solid,” Zauner said. “They’re hitting .328 as a team.

“And their pitching is good, too. They’ve got a young girl (Gabrielle Hawkins) who throws hard and a senior (Breann McGraw) with a lot of movement. So, I’m not sure who we’ll see.”

McGraw has been the workhorse for the T’wolves, compiling 15-8 record with 142 strikeouts against 57 walks with a 1.88 ERA, while Hawkins has struck out 17 in 21 innings of action.

On the opposite side of the box score, Bear River (25-2) brings back all but two seniors from the 2007 section championship squad, including senior pitcher Kelly Shepard. Through the course of the season, Shepard has fanned 162 hitters while walking just 15. She owns a 22-2 regular season record and a 0.64 ERA.

The Bruins have also dominated at the plate, with Courtney Ceo setting the plate with her .520 batting average and 18 stolen bases. Shepard has hit at a .434 clip with 23 RBIs, three home runs and seven doubles. Kathryn Rabak (.404), and Jenna Wermes (.400, 32 RBIs, eight doubles) provide more punch at the plate, while Katie Mathis (.386) and Brooke Mosman (.351) give Bear River six players hitting above .300.

Keeping that lineup in check will be a key for other clubs looking for a win against Shepard. And two of the top pitchers in the section will likely get a crack at the south county club.

A first-round win over Sierra likely will set up a second-round clash with Capital Valley Conference champ Rio Linda, which opens with VOL runner-up Ceres (18-9) at 5 p.m. today. Second-round action is slated to start shortly after the conclusion of first round contests today.

The Knights have won 18 straight games since their lone loss of the season, a 1-0 defeat to Metro Conference champ McClatchy on March 13. The key cog in that success has been pitcher Alex Newman, who owns a 0.20 ERA with 247 strikeouts against 24 walks.

Two wins today would move Bear River into the winner’s bracket final at 5 p.m. Friday, where they would likely once again meet East Union’s Erin Arevalo, who squared off with the Bruins three times in less than 24 hours in last year’s playoff run.

After holding the Bruin bats at bay in a 1-0 winner’s bracket final on Friday night, Arevalo fell to the Bruins in back-to-back championship contests (6-3, 1-0).

This season, the senior has racked up a staggering 428 strikeouts against 31 walks and a 0.14 earned run average.

East Union’s top half of the bracket clearly looks less cluttered with contenders than Bear River’s bottom half. The Lancers (23-4) open with Foothill (14-13) at 5 p.m., likely followed by a matchup against either Whitney (17-11) or Dixon (14-10).

“In the bottom half of that bracket, any four of the team could play East Union for the championship,” Zauner said. “I think there are four better teams in our half of the bracket than last year, though that’s not to say it wasn’t tough last year.”

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