Duane Zauner has been around the block a few times.
In his 21st season at Bear River High School, he’s seen some top-flight teams in his day, whether coaching football, baseball or softball.
Now in his 13th season at the helm of the school’s softball program, Zauner sees something special on the horizon. And, considering the way his Lady Bruins have come out swinging for the 2007 season, he sees reason for optimism.
“I think all around, from pitching to hitting to running the bases with speed and to defense, this is the best team in 13 years I’ve had,” Zauner said. “We’ve had eight or nine girls go on an play in college, girls who were really good players. But we’ve never had an entire cast we seem to have at this point.
“We’re looking for an outstanding season.”
So far, so good.
Bear River has blasted nine of its first 10 opponents this spring by a combined 79-4, while rolling out to a 9-1 start and winning both the Argonaut Tournament and Folsom Tournament titles. The Lady Bruins’ lone loss, a 3-0 setback Rio Linda, came on March 15.
Take away Bear River’s 25-0 win over Monterey Trail in pool play of the Folsom tourney and the Lady Bruins still are nearly averaging seven runs a game.
Bear River boasts five Bruins currently owning batting averages above the .400 mark, including the top three hitters among Pioneer Valley League players.
Jenna Wermes, a junior three-year starter, leads the team with a .552 batting average and 15 RBIs. Katie Mathis, a freshman second baseman, has hit at a .522 clip with two home runs so far this season. Ashley Sawyer, a senior captain who will graduate as a four-year letterwinner, is hitting .484 in the leadoff position.
Kelly Shepard, a junior who plays infield, outfield and is the number two pitcher, is hitting .414, while Jasmine McGown, another junior, is hitting .400 at the number nine position in the batting order.
Not only are the Bruins blessed with talent at the plate, they’re also stocked with skill inside the pitcher’s circle. Brittany Ceo, a three-year starting pitcher at Bear River, currently ranks ninth in the entire Sac-Joaquin Section with a 0.73 earned run average. She’s also struck out 28, while walking eight and allowing an average of less than 3 hits per game.
“In the seven games she’s pitched, the most runs she’s given up as three runs,” said Zauner. “She’s our starter, but she’ll be sharing the pitching duties with Kelly Shepard.”
Ceo and Shepard, who owns a 0.43 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 15 innings pitched, have Bear River ranked seventh in the section with a team ERA of 0.61.
After a third-place finish in the PVL left the Bruins on the outside looking in at the Division III section playoffs last year, Bear River hopes to not leave anything to chance this time around. Despite the fact the PVL will send three teams to the postseason in 2007 Ð along with the fact last year’s league champ, Mira Loma, is now a member of the Capital Athletic League Ð Zauner said the Lady Bruins are looking only at one position in the PVL standings.
Bear River’s best finish in the PVL came in 2003, when the Lady Bruins were the league runner-up. The last league championship won by Bear River was a Golden Empire League banner back in 1996.
“We’re definitely shooting to be the PVL champion,” Zauner said. “That’s the first goal and that, of course, would put us in the playoffs. And we want to also have success in the playoffs. We not only want to get to the playoffs, but also have some fun once we’re there.”
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Bear River Bruins
Coach: Duane Zauner (13th season)
Last season: 13-8 overall (7-5 league)
Key losses: Tracy Hart, Rebecca Zauner
Key returnees: Brittany Ceo (Sr., P), Ashley Sawyer (Sr., OF), Jenna Wermes (Jr., C), Kelly Shepard (Jr., INF/OF/P), Tera Reason (Jr., 3B), Jasmine McGown (Jr. OF), Brooke Mosman (Jr., OF), Kathryn Rabak (So., C/3B), Tori Humbard (So., OF), Gabby Irvin (Jr., OF).
League: Pioneer Valley League. Five of seven teams in the PVL own winning records through the preseason. Mira Loma, 2006 champion, has moved to Capital Athletic League. Colfax, which finished second in ’06, is off to a 7-1 start. Lincoln has posted a 7-2 record thus far, while Placer is 6-3.
Key games: Bear River hosts Placer at 3:45 p.m. today and travels to Lincoln Thursday. Home and away with rival Colfax (April 18 at Colfax, May 11 at Bear River) could very well decide the PVL prize.
Coach Zauner says: “It’s a tough league. Whitney is playing their first year of varsity, but they were JV champions last year and they’ve beaten Del Oro already. Lincoln is going to be solid; they always are solid. Colfax, of course, is going to be good again and Placer should be good. Those are probably the three main ones (to contend with), Lincoln, Colfax and Placer.”
Forest Lake Christian Falcons
Coach: Phil Sparling (1st season)
Last season: 7-6 overall (7-3 league)
Key losses: Jessica Lockhart, Megan Sanders
Key returnees: Lauren Schrack (Sr., P/C), Kristel Johnston (Sr., P), Rebecca Farnum (Jr., 2B/SS), Lindsey Engbrecht (So., 3B/C), Maddie Thompson (So., 1B).
League: Central Valley Christian League. Defending champion Woodland Christian posted a 9-1 record in league last year and Victory Christian placed third behind Forest Lake in the CVCL. League newcomer Vacaville Christian is coming off a 12-3 season, which included a 10-0 run through the Sacramento Valley Christian League.
Key games: FLC hosts defending league champ Woodland Christian at 3:30 p.m. Friday. Down the stretch, FLC will play its final four games on the road, including dates at Woodland Christian (April 24), Victory Christian (May 8) and Vacaville Christian (May 11).
Coach Sparling says: “We have a young squad but a very talented, good group of solid core players. I fully expect them to compete for the league title this year.”
Nevada Union Miners
Coach: Darren Chan (4th season)
Last season: 3-12 overall (3-8 league)
Key losses: Rachelle Chan, Kristin Durham, Corrine Mead, Kayla Olson, Jaleen Waller
Key returnees: Cassie Davidson (Jr., CF), Khrista Davis (Sr., 3B/C), Andrea Reuter (Sr., LF/RF), Kayla Denniston (Sr., 1B/OF), Eva Heppting (So., CF/LF).
Key newcomers: Brooke Bennett (Fr., P/3B), Bernadette Boren (F, CF/1B), Kendall Butterfield (Fr., SS/P), Keri Lozier (Jr., P), Christie Solik (Jr., C), Jessica Szura (Fr. 2B/SS).
League: Sierra Foothill League. Nevada Union joins a league that saw its fourth place team in 2006, Roseville, win 20 games. Defending SFL champ Woodcreek posted a 30-3 record in ’06, including a 14-0 run through the SFL, and is off to a 5-1 start in which opponents have totaled three runs. Rocklin, which finished third last season, and Roseville also are likely top-tier teams.
Key games: The Miners, off to a 2-9 start overall and 0-2 in the SFL, travel to Del Oro Thursday. The Miners will host seven of their eight final games, including an April 4 matchup with Bear River and home dates with Woodcreek (April 17) and Rocklin (May 3).
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The Nevada City Brewers left no doubt they were the top Junior Division team in Little League’s District 11.