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East Union falls to powerhouse Benicia

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East Union’s Danyelle Godoy steals second ahead of the tag by Benicia’s Adriana Chavez in an 11-1 win for the Panthers in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship game Saturday at Arnaiz F...

Photo by Wayne Thallander/

POSTED May 29, 2017 11:58 p.m.

STOCKTON – In Benicia’s 11-1 win over East Union for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III softball championship Saturday at Arnaiz Field, the ball just could not seem to bounce the Lancers’ way.
Forget the uncharacteristic five East Union errors that led to six unearned runs for the Panthers (29-2-1). One play summed up the luck the Lancers (28-4) did not have in the six-inning mercy-shortened contest.
With East Union pitcher Mikayla Bongi holding the Benicia top of the order to a 1-2-3 inning in the bottom of the fourth, the Lancers entered the top of fifth trailing 4-1 with a little momentum. That momentum quickly evaporated and it was all downhill from there.
In that fifth with two outs Allie Tajii (2 for 3) singled, stole second and took third on an error. Normally pinpoint Panthers pitcher McKenna Gregory then threw a wild pitch that got back to the stone backstop, which in most cases would guarantee an easy score from third.
There was nothing normal about Saturday for the Lancers. Tajii broke from third on the ball in the dirt and she was past the point of no return when the ball took a one-in-a-million bounce off a crease in the wall straight into Benicia catcher Haighley O’Rourke’s glove.
O’Rourke easily got the tag down on Tajii, East Union booted the ball around twice in the bottom of the frame when the Panthers scored five runs and the game was all but over.   
“It bounced right back to the catcher,” Lancers coach Brian Goulart said. “I told her if the ball got past the catcher and bounced off the stone she could go. I jinxed her. The ball just bounced right back to the catcher.
“We have a lot to learn. Obviously, we are senior-dominated in the circle and we have all upper-classmen leadership. Now our younger players need to get on board and grab it. When that happens we will be back to the team we were this whole season.”
Two years ago East Union lost to Pioneer of Woodland in the semifinals and came back the next day to trounce the Patriots twice. Bongi was hoping for a repeat performance, but none was forthcoming.
“Honestly, we were striving for what we did against Pioneer, Bongi said. “We beat them twice but we fell short today.”
A starter since her freshman year – she missed her junior campaign due to injury – Alexis Erich was the only player besides Tajii to get more than one hit, going 2 for 2 with a walk.
“We couldn’t have done this without our seniors,” Erich said. “Bongi was pitching her butt off today and I was trying to give her some support.”
Izabella Owen gave the Lancers hope early when she led off the third with a home run to tie the game at 1-all.
“We were down by one and we needed some momentum,” Owen said. “I wanted to make something happen.
“I just got a good pitch to hit. As soon as I made contact I knew it was going somewhere.”
This was the third championship in four years for Benicia, and the fourth consecutive appearance for the Panthers in a SJS championship game, with Gregory being in the circle all four years.
“She (Gregory) has been like that since she got to us her freshman year,” Benicia coach Kristin Grubbs said. “This senior class has been to a section championship game every year and she is a phenomenal player and is someone we are definitely going to miss. She can pitch and she can hit – she is a phenomenal athlete.”
The Panthers lost in 2016 and came into Saturday’s game with a purpose.
“This is the fourth year in a row we have got to this game,” Grubbs said. “Last year we took second and that left a sour taste in our mouths. I am so proud of the way they played. I can’t say enough about them – they just played one heck of a ball game.”
In East Union’s 28-5 record the Lancers only lost to three teams – Benicia twice, Tracy twice and San Benito of Hollister.
“We got hit in the jaw today and we didn’t get back up and that can happen in a championship fight,” Goulart said. “We have been doing that to teams all year and today we just didn’t respond.
“But that’s OK. We made the finals. We would have had to have beaten them twice and that would have been tough – they have a great pitcher and are a great team. I think the best team won today, I really do. I am just proud of our team to get to this point and maybe that means something for our season next year.”

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