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Lancer senior amped for 1st playoff game
SOFT--EU-Vinson file 1
East Union third baseman Jordan Vinson high-fives pitcher Alexis Erlich during annual Play in Pink game against Ripon on April 19. - photo by HIME ROMERO/Bulletin file photo

With seven starting underclassmen, Valley Oak League co-champion East Union has the firepower to continue its reign in future seasons.

Forgive Jordan Vinson for not thinking long term. This time, there is no next year.

It’s crazy to think that the talented fourth-year senior will be playing in her first — yes, first — Sac-Joaquin Section playoff game Thursday. Vinson has been on three fourth-place squads but only the top three in the VOL move on. League rivals have captured section banners, two for crosstown foe Sierra and the other for Oakdale, while she and the Lancers were left uninvited to the big dance.

“Frustrating doesn’t describe it,” said Vinson, one of just two seniors on the team. “It was something I’ve wanted so badly and we’ve come close. I love the sport so much and I know I won’t have much more time playing it, so I want to go as far as I can.”

She finally gets her shot.

The top-seeded Lancers (22-2) open the SJS Division IV tournament against a dangerous Pacheco club Thursday at Stockton’s Arnaiz Softball Complex

Vinson isn’t the only one looking to put a frustrating past behind her. Brian Goulart guided East Union to a Division III title back in 2004, his second year as the program’s varsity head coach, but has since come away empty-handed following championship-round appearances in 2007 and 08.

The team’s usually-unflappable third baseman yearns to be part of the group that ends the drought. Vinson must first overcome an unfamiliar opponent — nerves. Surprising, considering she was routinely in high-stakes situations playing for the school’s outstanding golf team in the fall.

“I don’t normally get super nervous about anything because I’ve been in a lot of tense situations in travelball, but I’m actually nervous for Thursday,” she said. “It’s my last year and it’s my last chance to do this. It’s really nerve-wracking but I’m so excited for it.”

The last time she was this nervous was her freshman year. Vinson started at shortstop on a team that featured three fourth-year starters — Jillian Goulart (Simpson), Brittany LaMar (William Jessup) and Cassie Waggy (Lehigh) — who went on to play college ball.

 “It was very tough being a freshman starting on the varsity team, and at a vital position, too,” Vinson said. “As a shortstop you have to be able to take charge but it was really intimidating doing that. I was very small and very timid and shy, but having LaMar behind the plate and Cassie Waggy at third it was very intimidating. It was also a lot of fun.”

Vinson picked up on the grizzled trio’s unwavering passion for the game, a tradition she takes pride in continuing being the squad’s only current four-year varsity player.

Goulart says Vinson can play any position and she has; her sophomore year she succeeded LaMar at catcher. She’s in her second year as the team’s third baseman and you’d be hard-pressed to find one better. The VOL’s 2013 Defensive Player of the Year has the agility, instincts and arm to play the hot corner.

“She is the best third baseman East Union has ever had, and I am not afraid to say it,” Goulart said. “She just plays the game exactly the way it’s supposed to be played.”

Vinson committed her only error of the season on March 13, but she more than made up for it by making highlight-reel play after highlight-reel play in leading the Lancers to a 10-2 win over Division I power Tracy.

She’s handy with the bat, too.

Hitting behind Oregon commit Cherish Burks, Vinson has had ample opportunities to provide productive at-bats from the No. 2 hole. Vinson has nearly tripled her previous career-high in RBIs with 37, and she is second only to Burks on the team in batting average (.467) and hits (35). Her 12 extra-base hits (10 doubles, two triples) are also a career best.

Do they win a share of the VOL championship without her?

“No. No way,” Goulart said. “There are certain crucial players you have to have, and she is vital to us winning. You can say the same thing about other players but without Jordan it would have killed the team. When she graduates it will be a huge impact. No matter how good and young we are, that is a night-in, night-out all-star performer we are going to miss.”

To win a section championship the Lancers will need all cylinders firing, and both player and coach said as much. The young battery of freshman pitcher Alexis Erlich and sophomore backstop Alejandra Rascon has been integral to the team’s 2014 success, and shortstop Samantha Owen and first baseman Michelle Castro have picked up where they left off from their stellar freshman year.

“We are a team, no question,” Goulart said. “On Thursday it will take a team effort because we could be facing two All-American pitchers in one night.”

The Lancers may be the virtual top seed but they weren’t treated as such in the pairings. Pacheco (15-9) of Los Banos downed Vista del Lago 3-0 in the out-bracket game but is anchored by an outstanding pitcher in former Central Catholic ace Gia Rodini (8-2, 0.32, 150 strikeouts in 65 innings), who was forced to sit out the first half of the season due to CIF transfer rules.

Get past the Panthers, and East Union could be treated to a third go-around with LSU-bound Allie Walljasper and the defending section champion Timberwolves from Sierra (14-6).

“We definitely have the team to do it,” Vinson said. “A lot of the teams that are in the playoffs are ones we’ve already played. We already know what we can do against them and we know we have the talent. If we can put it all together we have a great chance.”

No matter how far East Union goes, count on Vinson to relish every second of it.