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Molina, EU defense shut down Lincoln
East Union-Lincoln softball
East Union’s Layla Molina struck out nine, allowing just two hits and a walk. - photo by SEAN KAHLER

STOCKTON — From the time a player takes the diamond, one of the many things they are hounded to do is to back up the play. Some do, some do not, but East Union’s Makayla Simpson definitely does.

In the fourth inning Friday, Lincoln’s Dani Hunter popped a fly behind first base. Lancers second baseman Caliyah Lopez ranged far to her left in an attempt to make the catch, but the ball went in and out of her mitt behind her.

Simpson was coming in from right field to back the play up and after the ball popped out of Lopez’s mitt, Simpson was there to grab it just before it hit the ground and help East Union to a 3-0 win over the host Trojans in non-league softball action.

“I have never played right field before,” Simpson said. “This is all a new experience for me, and I am just taking it one step at a time and it is good

East Union-Lincoln softball
East Union’s Makenzie Nervis rounds third after her two-run home run and is congratulated by her coach Matt Cooper. - photo by SEAN KAHLER
to know that my hard work is paying off.”

In the sixth inning, Simpson ranged back and stabbed the ball out of the air over her head to rob Lincoln’s Alicia Ott of an extra-base hit.

“I definitely didn’t see it coming that far out,” Simpson said. “The wind was pushing everything back, and I should have known. I just drop stepped and got to it and it felt amazing to catch it.”

Layla Molina was lights out in the circle for the Lancers (5-1), striking out nine and allowing just two hits with one walk. At one point she retired nine in a row and 18 out of 20, including striking out the side in the second inning.

“All my pitches were dialed in,” Molina said. “I had my rise, my curve, my screwball, my changeup and my off speed.

“It was nice to have my defense behind me. Any ball that was hit they had my back and that was good and that makes me feel comfortable.”

Molina’s battery mate Makenzie Nervis launched a first-pitch two-out offering over the center field fence like a rocket for a two-run home run in the fourth inning for a 3-0 lead.

“I have really been working on making solid contact,” Nervis said. “It has been working for me going up there with confidence and making sure I had my technique down.”

East Union went ahead 1-0 earlier in the fourth. Leadoff batter Aubree Gann (2 for 3, run) led off the frame with a bunt single. Dianna La Fuentes followed with a grounder to third that was off the mark to get her at first. Gann never slowed down and scored all the way from first. La Fuentes scored on Nervis’ homer.

Nervis helped set the defensive tone for the Lancers early. Olivia Holtz led off the game for Lincoln (4-3) with a walk. Ott came up next and laid down a bunt which Nervis covered quickly and threw to Kylee Gann at first. Holtz tried to sneak to third but Kylee Gann fired the ball to Dillan Blevins at third who tagged out a sliding Holtz for the double play.

East Union coach Matt Cooper was thrilled with Molina’s performance.

“Layla threw very, very well today,” said. “She is a leader. There is a reason why she had multiple choices of colleges, and it’s not just because of what she does in the circle or at the plate, it is her leadership and her persona. Layla threw great, and we are going to win more games than we will lose with her throwing like that.

“I have only seen catches like that one in short right field on blooper shows. Hats off to Caliyah (Lopez) for getting there, because that was a long run, and Makayla (Simpson) really stayed in the play. Usually a defender could let up and watch her teammate make the play but Makayla stayed there and that was great. That was a big play right there because it stopped them from making a little run.”

The Lancers travel to Modesto on Monday afternoon to face Gregori at 3:45.