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LAST DANCE

Walljasper, Olmo bid farewell as Ward helps EU reach final round

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LAST DANCE

East Union left fielder Taylor Ward makes one of her highlight reel catches for a key out in the sixth inning during the Lancers’ consolation-bracket game against Ceres Friday at Arnaiz Softball Co...

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin/


POSTED May 17, 2014 1:19 a.m.

STOCKTON — Friday night marked the end of an era for Sierra’s softball program.

It may have also signaled the start of the area’s next dynasty.

East Union, with its 14 underclassmen, eliminated the Timberwolves from the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs with an 11-1 mercy-shortened win in the consolation semifinal. It’s the second time in two nights that the two intra-city foes squared off, with Sierra (16-8) winning Thursday’s winners-bracket quarterfinal 7-5 in eight innings. They split their overall season series 2-2.

The Lancers take on fellow Valley Oak League co-champion Oakdale today back at Arnaiz Stadium. They’ll need to win the 11 o’clock game this morning to force a winner-take-all scheduled for a 1 p.m. start.

“When we were sitting there in the dugout I told them to get used to it, because this is what you’re going to see for the next few years,” East Union coach Brian Goulart said. “This team is very young. We only have two seniors total and one of them is a starter, and only two junior starters.

“There are players sitting on our bench who are starters for other teams, no doubt about it. I’m excited for our girls that this is coming to fruition. They’re playing for a section title tomorrow and that was our goal was to get there.”

Earlier Friday, East Union (25-3) blew a seven-run lead against Ceres but remain in the hunt thanks to Taylor Ward’s walk-off double in the bottom of the seventh. The Lancers won, 8-7. And in the winners-bracket semifinal, Sierra dropped a 5-4 decision to Oakdale but made things interesting in the end.

Following the loss to East Union, Nick Olmo announced that he is retiring as Sierra’s head coach after eight years at the helm. Together with four-year star Allie Walljasper, they garnered Sierra’s first two Valley Oak League titles as well as two SJS Division IV banners. The Timberwolves will not reach a section final after doing so the past three years.

“It’s bittersweet,” Olmo said. “You want to be there in the end but we just ran out of gas. Take nothing away from East Union, they did a great job. It just wasn’t meant to be for us this year.

“The whole experience I had at Sierra was awesome,” he added. “I’m going to miss all this.”

Walljasper also caps a decorated career at Sierra. With soreness in her throwing arm and hand, she was unable to pitch her final game Friday. The 6-foot-1 workhorse is heading to LSU.

“Her arm was dead,” Olmo said. “She must have thrown 300-400 pitches the past two days and it’s just way too much.”

Walljasper did go out with a bang. She gave the Timberwolves a 1-0 lead against Oakdale with a homer to left. Oakdale (23-5-1), however, took advantage of Walljasper’s fatigued arm. The Mustangs took the lead for good in the bottom of the third with Haley Fuller’s two-run homer. They plated two more in the fourth and another in the sixth with a double from Hannah Holland (3 for 3).

Sierra, trailing 5-2, went down swinging in the seventh. Devi Coglio scored on an error, and Mariah Jurado drove in Walljasper to close the T’Wolves in by one with the bases loaded and two out. Oakdale pitcher Melinda Koppinger stalled Sierra’s last-ditch effort with a strikeout.

“If the tournament is going to be over for us I’m glad we went out against Oakdale that way,” Olmo said. “We had them on the edge of their seat.”

The tournament is not over for East Union, and it has Ward to thank.

The slender sophomore enjoyed her best day as a Lancer on Friday, going 4 for 7 with five RBIs. She got East Union off to a hot start against Ceres with a three-run home run in the opening frame, and it was Ward who fittingly ended it in the bottom of the seventh when she knocked in Samantha Owen with a double down the left-field line.

“I was confident when I went up there,” Ward said of her heroic at-bat. “When I hit it I was happy that it ended up working out for us.”

East Union appeared on its way to an easy win over Ceres (21-6) as it built a 7-0 lead through two innings. A pitching change — Ceres went with Rayohna Sagapolu in the second inning — did wonders for the Bulldogs, and Mahlena O’Neal (3 for 3, three runs, four RBIs) led the comeback charge with two solo bombs.

Owen, another sophomore, went 3 for 3 against Ceres while bashing one of EU’s three home runs on the day. In the Sierra game, freshman Alexis Erich plated three runs and was a triple shy of hitting for the cycle. Her two-run shot in the fourth put the mercy rule in play.

Ward was just as good with the leather.

She made three diving catches in left field and robbed another multiple-base hit with a leaping catch at the outfield fence.

“I’ve been working on fielding for a long time,” Ward said. “I just want to contribute anyway I can for the team.”

Delaney Pamplin earned her second varsity win Friday. The freshman was called up to the varsity squad for its postseason run and threw 2 2/3 perfect innings in relief in Thursday’s thrilling 4-2 come-from-behind win over Pacheco. Friday night she threw four innings in the Sierra game and gave up an unearned run and three hits. Senior Savina Brandi finished the job in the fifth.

“It’s just a great experience being moved up for this opportunity,” Pamplin said. “Pitching against Sierra was pretty nerve-wracking but I did all right, I guess.”

Goulart would not say who would get the starting nod for today’s final-round showdown with Oakdale. Erich, East Union’s usual starter, is battling arm soreness and is questionable to pitch.

The two teams split their regular-season series. Oakdale is vying for its fifth section championship while East Union is gunning for its third and first since earning the Division III crown in 2004. This will be the 11th time in 12 years that the VOL is represented in a section title game for softball.

“We feel like we match up really well with Oakdale,” Goulart said. “We like where we’re at. I would rather face Oakdale twice than Sierra. To have to face Allie twice and beat her in one day is tough. We’ve only beat her two or three times her whole career.”

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