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Year of the Bruin

‘We refuse to lose’

Bruins fight way back to section championship

The Union, May 21, 2007



STOCKTON – 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.

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.

“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.”

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.

– Brian Hamilton

Bear River wins second straight section title

The Union, March 5, 2007

SACRAMENTO – Been there, done that, did it again.

The Bear River girls basketball team headed to Arco Arena for the second straight season Saturday for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championship game. For the second year, the Bruins emerged victorious.

The difference between the two games was the ease with which the Bruins dispatched Ripon this season. Bear River (24-7) downed the Indians 57-27 in a game that was never closer than 19 after the first half.

Last year, the Bruins downed arch-rival Colfax 57-40 to win its ninth section title.

Bear River hit double figures in section titles with this year’s win thanks to Chandré Uno’s 17 points in a game-high 29 minutes. Uno handled the ball for the Bruins almost the entire game, giving up just one turnover.

Uno didn’t do it alone, however, as Lauren Juric added 14 and Erin Noud scored 10. Juric also grabbed 10 rebounds.

But it wasn’t the Bruins’ offense that brought home this victory. Fourth-seeded Ripon entered the game averaging 47 points per game. The Bruins held the Indians to a full 20 points below their average.

“Defense was the key,” said senior Rachel Harter, who grabbed four rebounds in the contest. “We wanted to get them back on their heels.”

Bear River head coach Jeff Bickmore has said all season that one of his team’s objectives is to never give up a contested shot. If there were any uncontested shots Saturday, they were few and far between.

“I really thought they were going to cause some matchup problems for us,” Bickmore said. “But they didn’t. Our height really worked to our advantage and we did a good job of taking away everything they wanted to do.”

Four of the starting five players for the Bruins – Juric, Harter, Noud and Katie Thompson – are seniors and were instrumental in winning the section title last season.

“After doing what they did last season as juniors, I think there was a lot of pressure on them to repeat,” Bickmore said.

– Ross Maak

Bear River falls in semis

Game ends illustrious career of coach Jack McCrory

The Union, Feb. 28, 2007

LODI – With the game decided and just the final score yet to be determined, the only varsity boys basketball coach in Bear River High School history leaned back into his chair and wrapped his hands around the back of his curly head of hair.

And then the three-word chant started, echoing across the Tokay High School gymnasium and leaving the victors of the game wondering what in the world the Bear River student section could be celebrating, considering the Bruins had just been bounced from postseason play.

“We love Jack! We love Jack! We love Jack!”

Roaring with the same fervor that they had shouted with throughout Tuesday’s Division IV Sac-Joaquin Section boys semifinal, Bear River’s students gave Jack McCrory one last sendoff.

McCrory, the only coach they’ve known in 21 years of Bear River High School, was indeed on the Bruins bench for the final time.

Bear River, the tournament’s No. 3 seed, bowed out of the section playoffs one stop short of Arco Arena, with a 60-42 defeat to No. 2 seed Amador.

“No complaints,” McCrory said afterward. “It’s been a great run.

“I told (the Bruins) we’ve got a lot to celebrate. This is the first time we’ve been ranked number three. It’s the first time we’ve won two home games in the playoffs. And that’s a great way for me to leave this thing. I’m proud of them.”

– Brian Hamilton

In the fast lane

Two Bruins bound for state meet

The Union, May 26, 2007

SACRAMENTO – Despite her lean into the finish line, Nicole Jackson thought she’d been edged out of the final qualifying spot for the California State Championships.

She headed down the infield at Sacramento City College’s Hughes Stadium in disappointment, sure that she had run her final 100 hurdles race of her high school track and field career at the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Meet.

But upon further review – and after Bear River senior teammate Rachel Welz had run her down – Jackson discovered that she had held off Lodi sophomore Kayla Carter by eight-tenths of a second to clinch third place and a berth into next week’s state meet.

“I didn’t know,” said a somewhat surprised Jackson, after returning to the finish line for the awards ceremony. “I thought the girl in lane two beat me. So, I was walking away, kind of sad. But I guess I was third.

“It feels so good. I’ve wanted this since forever. It feels really good.”

Making next week’s return trip to Sac City College even sweeter will be the fact that she’ll be joined by Welz, with whom she’s trained and competed since the two met in middle school. Welz qualified in both the high jump and long jump on Thursday. She also qualified for the finals in the 100 and 300 hurdles.

After sitting down for an interview, the two shared a high five and the words “Team Domination.”

“Since the eighth grade when she moved here,” Welz said, recalling how long the Bear River duo have been hitting the track together. “She was the lonely girl … doing the hurdles all by herself.”

“I was so lonely,” Jackson added. “Then Rachel came along.”

– Brian Hamilton

Bruins making history

Bear River to play its first section championship game

The Union, May 24, 2007

SACRAMENTO – This was not the team Mike Viola expected to be meeting new milestones for the Bear River baseball program.

But the 2007 Bruins and their skipper are now headed to the first Sac-Joaquin Section baseball championship game in school history, after emerging from an 11-inning, semifinal struggle against Center with an 8-5 victory Wednesday.

After a graduation day exodus took its toll on last season’s roster, Viola wondered what kind of club he had to follow up on the 22-2 campaign he coached in 2006.

Despite having what he deemed to be a more talented club – including two players who were selected in the Major League Baseball draft – the Bruins fell in the first round of action for a fourth time.

Regardless of the record Bear River had compiled, there was no mistaking the disappointment in the season ending on “Suicide Saturday.”

“I’m telling you this, at the beginning of the year we just wanted to make the playoffs,” said Viola, in his eighth season with the Bruins. “But then we won the league and that was just unbelievable.

“Then we got through Saturday, which is what these guys have been talking about all along.”

After that bitter ending to the 2006 slate, during an American Legion game three days later, Viola was still stinging from the loss when he was approached by Bear River junior Bryan Sibis.

“He told me ‘Coach don’t worry about last year’s team. We may not go 22-1, but we’re going to win on Saturday,'” Viola said. “That’s just the way it’s been with these guys. ‘Don’t worry, Coach. We’ll be OK.’

“The team we had last year had a lot of talent and they expected to win. But this group of kids, they’re starting to feel they can’t be beat. They are by far the hardest-working individuals I’ve had … That kind of stuff, you can’t teach it.”

– Brian Hamilton


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