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With help from rivals, Sierra clinches playoff berth on Senior Day

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Sierra's Sommer Wilson follows teammate Iyana Hughes around the bases after crushing a three-run homer in the third inning Friday against visiting Manteca.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

POSTED May 15, 2010 2:19 a.m.

Sierra High’s softball team won its final Valley Oak League contest 5-1 on Senior Day Friday against rival Manteca, but the Timberwolves’ season wasn’t over yet.

Sierra coach Nick Olmo and a handful of his players migrated over to Northgate Softball Complex where their postseason fate lay in the hands of its other crosstown foe, East Union.

But on this night, East Union was a friend of Sierra’s.

East Union and Ceres were vying for the second of three Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoff seeds, but for the latter it was do-or-die. A loss would have put the Bulldogs in a third-place tie with Sierra, which swept them for the head-to-head tiebreaker this season.

East Union came through for Olmo and Co., winning handily 7-1 while avenging a previous loss to Ceres.

Last year, Sierra was in position to capture at least a piece of the VOL title, which would have been the first in school history for varsity softball. But East Union ended up forfeiting a win over outright champ Oakdale for using an illegal player, which ultimately took both Sierra and East Union out of the playoff picture.

“The team deserves to be in the playoffs with how they rallied in the second half to stay in the hunt,” Olmo said at Northgate Softball Complex. “We’re peaking right now, but what I’m looking forward to the most is us getting a little bit of rest.”

The Timberwolves (11-5, 17-9 overall) put the finishing touches of a grueling three-games-in-three-day-stretch this week on Friday, and they needed to win out to have a shot at the postseason. Sierra edged East Union 5-4 Wednesday before drubbing Weston Ranch 12-1 in five innings Thursday.

All three Timberwolf seniors contributed to Friday’s victory. BYU-Hawaii-bound pitcher Gabby Hawkins ran her season-long strikeout total to 274 with 11 Friday. She tossed a one-hitter and walked five in her final home game of her decorated career.

Starting catcher Stephanie Maestretti drove in the game’s first run with a single, and Liz Brown, who turns 18 today, was 2 for 3.

Brown said revenge was sweet after Sierra previously dropped a 1-0 decision to Manteca on April 19, but Friday’s win meant so much more.
To be able to get back at them was great, but this was most definitely emotional because no matter what this is our last home game here where I played for four years,” she said.

Also making a big impact was freshman Sommer Wilson, who, along with Shakira Lewis and Iyana Hughes, were brought up from the sophomore squad on April 26.

Lewis led off the third with an infield single and Hughes walked. Wilson cleaned up the base paths with a three-run home run to left field — her fourth jack in just eight varsity contests. Wilson ended up 2 for 3 with two runs.

“There’s a lot more competition up here than at the lower levels, and the team accepted us really well,” Wilson said. “It makes me feel good as a freshman to know that the pitcher can trust me and that I can help the team out.”

Wilson also provided a big boost on defense. Still down 1-0, Manteca threatened to at least tie it with the bases loaded and one out in the top of the third.

Hawkins struck out a batter for the second out, and Manteca’s Mia Ramirez chopped  a hard shot to Wilson at the second-base hole. Wilson charged at it and said she thought about diving for the ball but was able to glove it off the hop and throw out Ramirez at first.

Manteca (8-8, 11-11) left two more on base in the fifth when reserve Alex Tillis plated its only run. Senior Chandler Rose broke up Hawkins’ bid for a no-hitter with an infield single in the third.

“They’re a better team right now than when we met them the first time,” Manteca coach Todd Hardcastle said. “Those three girls they brought up definitely made a difference.

“But we still had chances. We left a lot of girls on base. We did what we could, we bunted, we just couldn’t get that one big hit.”

Hardcastle coached his last game at Manteca after eight seasons. On Thursday, Weston Ranch coach Melanie Berezay, a Sierra graduate and former player at the school, also lost her final game to her alma mater.

“I’m sad to see our seniors go, they all did well this season,” Hardcastle said. “I’m proud of them, it was a respectable way to go out. When you look back on the season, we had a couple tough losses and could be in the playoff hunt at this point, but I thought we really improved as a team.”

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