After his team started sluggishly in its season-opening win at Sierra last week, East Union coach Brian Goulart wanted the Lancers to land the first blows against their other rivals on Wednesday.
They responded by scoring three runs in the first inning at Manteca and led by as much as nine before holding on for a 10-7 win.
Goulart attributed the turnaround to senior shortstop Savina Molina, the club's lead-off batter who missed the Sierra game. She finished 2 for 4 with a walk and plated three runs.
“We talked about (starting strong) all week, but honestly I think our team runs at full cylinders when we have Savina,” Goulart said. “She was out against Sierra and today she kick started us and created three runs with her legs.
“That's a spark for our team and she's our captain, we need her. Our team is completely different when she's in the lineup. It lengthens our lineup physically, it puts the lead-off batter where they belong and we don't have to have a funky lineup card. I think she's an obvious game-changer for us.”
Sophomore pitcher Layla Molina helped give herself some run support in the first inning with a two-out, RBI single, and batterymate Mackenzie Nervis (2 for 4, two RBIs) drove her in with a double. Savannah Wilkerson (2 for 3, HBP) contributed batted in two during East Union's three-run third inning. Savina Molina and Kylee Gann (2 for 3, BB) belted a run-scoring hit in the fifth, as the Lancers widened the lead to 10-1.
Although Manteca (0-4) committed two errors that led to runs, coach Josh Farris did not see the snowball effect come into play as it did in previous contests for his young club. The Buffaloes, in fact, made some big plays that wound up giving them a chance in the end.
Left fielder Ariana Lowery helped limit the damage in the first, throwing out a runner at the plate for the final out. In the third, right fielder Kiana Briseno and second baseman Mohrgen Kissee combined for a textbook inning-ending relay.
“We don't have pitchers who are going to get a lot of strikeouts and East Union is a team that is going to hit the ball, so you have to make plays behind the pitchers,” Farris said. “I thought we did a much better job of that today.”
East Union (2-0) pounded out 13 hits, getting base runners from eight of the nine spots in the order. Kaitlyn Reyes was one of five Lancers to come up with multiple hits.
Layla Molina struck out nine batters and had a five-hitter going into the seventh. East Union looked to finish as well as it started and appeared to be on its way after Savina Molina made a spectacular play for the first out of the inning, throwing out Madisyn Bridewell at first from her knees.
Manteca then rallied for five runs, getting four consecutive hits — including back-to-back RBI singles from Briseno (3 for 4) and Kissee (2 for 4) — while taking advantage of two infield errors. Igniting the flurry with a hit was No. 9 batter Baylee Willenbrink, who finished 3 for 3 with three runs and three steals.
“Layla pitched great,” Goulart said. “She deserved a little better result in the last inning. The last two outs were tough. It would have been nice for us to finish on a high note but Manteca fought back, I tip my hat to them, they didn't quit.
“We played excellent for 19 outs. The last two outs were a little sketchy, but you want to build a lead up quickly by playing well and it gives you a chance to win the game if you do go a little flat.”
Farris was glad to see the Buffs bust out of a early-season slump after scoring just three runs in their first three games. To be fair, Manteca has had brutal match-ups to begin Valley Oak League play.
“The league didn't do us any favors, did they?” Farris said. “It doesn't get any easier — we have Escalon coming up and then Sierra. It's like that almost every single week where you're going to play someone tough. That's why I think it's the best softball league in our area, and it's not like they added some Joe Schmoes, they added two elite teams (Escalon, Ripon) to a league that is already dominant. I think we'll get better from it. We want to compete against the best.”