Samantha Owen set the bar high for herself and the East Union softball team.
Her goal for next season:
“Have a better year than this year, hopefully,” she said.
As if being the best player on the best Division III club in the state wasn’t enough.
The Manteca Bulletin’s All-Area Softball MVP put up staggering numbers for the 30-3 Lancers, who earned Valley Oak League and Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championships along with the Cal-Hi Sports’ Division III State Team of the Year honor.
The junior boasted a .643 batting average with 72 hits, 51 runs scored, nine homers, 61 RBIs, 13 doubles, three triples on top of playing great defense at shortstop. In 126 plate appearance she struck out only four times.
“It’s kind of crazy,” Owen said of her astronomical stat line. “I definitely hope to have an even better year next year. I just want to get better and better.”
She was already one of the league’s top players going into the season. In her sophomore year she was named to the All-VOL first team and earned a second-team spot as an outfielder in 2013.
Still, softball programs from four-year universities weren’t taking notice, while teammates Cherish Burks (Oregon) and Alejandra Rascon (Cal State Northridge) had already committed. Burks signed in November. Owen’s college aspirations were what propelled her to make the leap from great to elite.
“I worked a lot harder my junior year than in the previous two because I knew where I needed to be,” Owen said. “I just really wanted to commit to a college and I knew I had the potential to do it. I also had good teammates to push me to work harder, that really helped.”
Pacific kept tabs of Owen over the summer, but she needed a big year and improved SAT scores to go there. Owen committed just weeks after leading East Union to its third section banner.
“I’m excited,” she said. “I really like the coaching staff; they really support me and everything I do.”
Pacific coach Brian Kolze, a former Delta College teammate of East Union head coach Brian Goulart, has reason to be excited for landing Owen.
While her college future was the main motivation, the desire to win a section championship also a driving force for Owen. In 2014, East Union advanced to the Division IV finals only to be thwarted by VOL rival Oakdale.
“Every day in practice we worked so hard and we knew this was our year,” Owen said. “Last year, it sucked being the runner-up and we didn’t want that to happen again. We worked hard every day to do it for ourselves, the school and the coaches. We just wanted it so much.”
Owen drove in at least one run in 17 of East Union’s first 18 games of the season, a stretch in which the team went 16-2. The Lancers went undefeated (14-0) in league, fending off contenders such as Oakdale, Manteca and eventual SJS Division IV champion Sierra.
Owen and the Lancers picked their game up a notch for the postseason, when it routed opponents by a combined 73-18 score. Owen, meanwhile, hit .800 (20 for 25), scored 16 runs, drove in 14 and hammered three homers. She was perfect on the final night of the season, when East Union needed to beat top-seeded Pioneer twice for the title.
It was Pioneer who handed the Lancers their first loss of the season on March 28, and the Patriots again got the better of them the winners-bracket semifinal. East Union got its revenge in a big way, rolling to a 12-1 victory to force a winner-take-all that also ended early, 17-3.
“I think it was a good thing (losing to Pioneer in the semifinal) because it just made us much more excited to get to that championship game,” Owen said. “We knew we were able to beat them and didn’t feel like they were better than us.”
East Union proved as much in decisive fashion, and Owen punctuated her breakthrough campaign with a 7-for-7 effort that included six runs, six RBIs, a double and a jack.
“We just wanted to prove everyone wrong,” Owen said. “No one thought we would win Division III.”