Focused on the finish
With the 13-week regular season out of the way, the two western Nevada County high school softball teams which have qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs – Nevada Union in Division I and Forest Lake Christian in Division V – can get down to the business of grabbing the most coveted prize the section has to offer:
Here’s a look at what the fans of the area’s teams who make the trip to the Sacramento and Lodi Saturday will have in store.
The Miners (20-7 overall) posted an 11-1 league mark en route to the Metro Conference crown and staked their claim as one of the section’s top teams during the regular season.
NU, which lost in the first round a year ago, will now look to keep the magic of the regular season alive when it faces Delta League No. 3 Folsom on the Sacramento Softball Complex’s Field No. 3.
The first pitch is scheduled for 10 a.m.
A victory not only buys the Miners a ticket to a same-day showdown with the winner of the San Joaquin Athletic Association champ Merril West (Tracy)/Central California Conference No. 3 Grace Davis (Modesto), but a berth into the double-elimination portion of the tourney, which begins Monday.
“Folsom plays in a league with three other tough teams, so we’ve definitely got our work cut out for us,” Miner head coach Darren Chan said.
Defensively, the Bulldogs depend on the golden arm of junior pitcher Chelsea Engle.
Engle (15-7), whose 319 strikeouts this season are good enough for third in the state according to maxpreps.com, has allowed just six earned runs in her 161 2/3 innings on the mound this year.
She’s posted double digit strikeouts in 12 games, including a season-high 19 in a 6-0 win over Florin (Sacramento).
“I haven’t seen her pitch, but by the reports I’ve had, she’s a hard thrower with a good riseball and change up. (But) I must have thrown 1,500 to 2,000 pitches at practice this week to try to show them how to hit a riseball,” said Chan, who has pitched on both baseball and softball diamonds since the late 1970s. “(Because of that) I’ve never seen them more disciplined and focused at the plate this year than they were this week.”
Chan will look to a bevy of All-Metro Conference first teamers among others to get to Engle early and often.
Junior Kristin Schmidt, who ended the season fourth among Metro Conference batters (.365), second in both RBI (22) and slugging percentage (.671), and tied for first in home runs (3), has led the way for the Miners at the plate all season.
League Most Valuable Player Becky Dowd, also a junior, has done the majority of her damage on the mound, but has proven she can also swing the bat.
Dowd (7-5), who was second in the league in strikeouts (61) and third in ERA (.95), is in the top four on the team in four offensive categories.
She’s tied for second in RBI (14) and fourth in batting (.284), on-base percentage (.354) and slugging percentage (.405).
Kala Olson, a sophomore, and senior Amanda Poteet round out NU’s all-league first teamers.
Olson is third on the team in batting (.289), on-base percentage (.375), slugging percentage (.447) and fourth in RBI (13). Olson has also hit a pair of home runs.
Poteet, who is 2-0 from the mound this season, hits at .264 and is tied for second on the team in RBI with 14.
The Miners will also need production from all-league second teamers Sarah Wixon and Sarah Nunnink, along with Traci Hart and Jaclyn Swartz if they want to have chance to move on in the bracket.
Defensively, NU can throw at least a trio of battle-hardened pitchers at the potent Bulldog attack.
Along with Dowd and Poteet, the Miners have sophomore all-league second teamer Rachelle Chan at the ready.
Chan (10-1), whose winning percentage is tied for eighth-best in the state according to maxpreps.com, ended the season third in the league strikeouts (59) and second in ERA (.97).
“Right now Amanda Poteet is throwing the hardest, but Rachelle’s got the most movement on her pitches,” coach Chan said. “But Becky is just a soldier. She just goes out there and gets the job done.”
NU will need every bit of help it can get from the mound as Folsom has a pair of formidable hitters in Tara Tembey and Keri Burnside.
Tembey, the Delta League’s top hitter at .451, has eight multi-hit games, including three each in shutout wins over Laguna Creek and St. Francis (Sacramento).
Burnside, who has recorded a 2-0 record with 21 strikeouts in limited action on the mound this season, is fourth in the league in hitting (.367).
She’s also recorded seven multi-hit games, highlighted by a pair of three-hit performances in wins over Valley and Sheldon, both of Sacramento.
“I’ve been coaching these girls the past four years (on the Nevada County Xtreme) and we’ve been in many tournaments. So this is not their first high-pressure situation. They’re yearning to get out there (and show what they can do),” coach Chan said.
A playoff berth was the last thing on the minds of the Falcons early in the season.
First on the list was survival.
FLC, which was without the services of two of its top players – third baseman Jessica Pearce and catcher Jessica Lockhart – to the girls basketball team’s protracted state-championship run, lost six of its first nine games.
The Falcons, who had earned postseason berths in each of the last three seasons but have yet to advance past the first round, were in danger of missing the cut.
Not for long.
“Once we got (them both back) we ended up the season at 12-1. They were our No. 2 and No. 3 hitters and to have them back was really important,” FLC assistant coach Dave Lockhart said. “That was the point of the season the team really solidified.”
With their dynamic duo back the Falcons (13-7-1 overall) rallied to take two straight from perennial Division V power Victory Christian (Carmichael) en route to the Central Valley Christian League title and a berth into the postseason.
FLC will square off with Mountain Valley League runner up Turlock Christian at the Lodi Softball Complex at noon.
“I don’t know too much about Turlock Christian, but I know they’re in a much stronger league than we are,” coach Lockhart said.
Turlock Christian has scored a more-than-respectable 184 runs this year, but FLC has an answer in pitcher Megan Paulk.
Paulk, who put off plans to graduate a year early, has fanned a team-best 52 batters on her way to a 5-1 record.
“Megan’s got two pitches. The fastball and a change up. She throws really hard, but she can also hit her spots,” coach Lockhart said.
The Falcons can also look to Katie Vierra (2-0) and Grace Messina to provide backup if Paulk finds herself in trouble.
Paulk is just as dangerous at the plate.
She’s fourth in the Sacramento area in batting at .555 and fourth in the CVCL in RBI with 13.
Pearce has also made things happen with the bat in her hand. She’s fourth in the league in batting (.483) and tied for eighth in RBI (6).
Lockhart and Megan Wisniewski will also keep Turlock Christian pitchers on their toes. The duo hit at .375 and .346 respectively and have combined for 18 RBI.
“All week we’ve been working on being aggressive with our bat and bunting. Just making contact,” coach Lockhart said. “We’re going to be aggressive (at the plate and on the base paths) and try to force errors. If we do that, I think we’ll have a good opportunity to win.”
To get there:
Sacramento Softball Complex
From I-80 east of Watt Avenue: Take Business 80 to Watt Avenue North. Go across Watt Avenue to Longview Drive. The entrance to the complex will be on the left (south). Follow that road to the complex.
Lodi Softball Complex
From I-5: Take the Turner Road exit and go east about seven miles Turn right on Stockton Street. Complex is on west side of the street about a half a mile south of Turner Road.
From Highway 99: Take the Turner Road exit and go west about a half a mile. Turn left on Stockton Stree. complex is on west side of the street about a half a mile south of Turner Road.
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