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Lancers get another shot at Benicia, SJS title

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Lancers get another shot at Benicia, SJS title

East Union second baseman Danielle Ramos (4) and center fielder Alexis Erich watch the ball drop for a base hit from Benicia during Thursday’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division III winners-bracket semif...


POSTED May 26, 2017 1:48 a.m.

STOCKTON — East Union still has a heartbeat in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs, and that’s enough for head coach Brian Goulart and his veteran players.

The No. 2 Lancers are making their 13th appearance in a section final Saturday but will need to beat Michigan State-bound McKenna Gregory and top-seeded Benicia twice at Arnaiz Softball Complex to capture their fourth overall banner. 

On Thursday, Benicia blasted them 10-4 in the winners-bracket semifinal. It’s the first time since 2013 that East Union was tagged for a double-digit run total.

The loss dropped the Lancers into the consolation semifinal, and they bounced back with a 5-2 win over No. 6 Vista del Lago — the team that knocked them out of the postseason last year. The Lancers had already avenged the defeat on Monday with a 2-0 quarterfinal victory.

East Union senior Alexis Erich connected for a game-tying RBI double and smashed the go-ahead two-run homer in the bottom of the fifth inning that gave the Lancers a 3-1 lead.

“We needed to win this game to get to Saturday, and I’m glad I was able to get those hits in for my team,” Erich said. “This scenario is just like it was two years ago.”

Erich enjoyed a superb sophomore season during East Union’s section championship run in 2015 when then No. 1-seeded Pioneer of Woodland sent the Lancers to the consolation semifinal. They beat Vanden to get to the title round, then buried Pioneer in two blowouts that ended with a combined 29-4 score.

East Union (28-4) might be a bigger underdog this time around, even though it’s ranked No. 4 among Division III teams in the state by Cal-Hi Sports. The Lancers will have another shot at the powerful Panthers (28-2-1), Cal-Hi Sports’ No. 2-ranked D-III club, Saturday starting at noon with the “if” to follow.

“Hopefully we can play our best Saturday against those guys,” Goulart said. “We have some work to do to keep up with them, there’s no doubt, but better to have the opportunity than not, right?”

East Union started well against Gregory, scratching out two runs in the opening frame. Allie Tajii and Erich drew back-to-back walks, and Kristina Mojica drilled an RBI single. A throwing error on a pickoff attempt allowed Erich to score from third.

The Lancers missed an opportunity to pad the lead in the third when Izabella Owen — who went 3 for 4 with two runs in the nightcap — had a leadoff double. Tajii bunted her to third where she was left stranded.

Benicia, which left four runners on base in the first two innings, went to work in the bottom half of the third when it started with five straight hits — two of them homers. Grace French (3 for 4, three runs) cracked a towering shot over the left-field fence to ignite the onslaught, and Elizabeth Sweeney hit the back-breaking three-run jack three batters later. 

East Union replaced Mikayla Bongi in the circle, but the move did little to slow the Panthers down. They plated four more runs — though three of them were unearned — against Delaney Pamplin, who left the game with a foot injury in the fifth. Bongi returned to pitch the remainder of the contest as well as the entirety of the consolation game.

“That was a big deal,” Goulart said of Pamplin’s injury. She and Bongi split time in the circle for the 2015 championship team. “We had to fight for her. She’s one of our star players, and she does so much for our team that we want to play on Saturday so that she could be there.”

Benicia torched the tandem for 13 total hits but was also aided by four errors, three coming in the fourth. Tajii gave East Union one last highlight in the game, hammering a two-run bomb in the fifth. Gregory struck out seven and gave up two earned runs on four hits and two walks for Benicia. She also went 3 for 4 with two RBIs at the plate. Chelsea Mari added her own 3-for-4 effort with a double, two runs and an RBI.

“They pounded us,” Goulart said. “That was obviously our worst game of the year but that’s against a real good team. If Bongi was a little sharper and we played a little defense something magical could have happened. 

“I said this morning that if we could score three runs we would win, but we did not play well defensively and they hit the ball hard. They had some big hits.”

Bongi was far better in the second game of the night despite giving up the first run in the top of the first. Katie Vreztos led off with a single and eventually made her way home via two wild pitches and a sacrifice bunt. Bongi wound up with 10 strikeouts against four walks and six hits scattered. She said she was further motivated by Pamplin’s injury.

“It definitely made me realize that I need to step it up,” she said.  “It’s my senior year, I need to be there for my team and be a role model.

“We definitely learned a lot from that (Benicia) game that could help for us Saturday,” Bongi added. “I need to do a better job.”

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