Hayley Leonard approached East Union coach Brian Goulart in the middle of the season to discuss her role on the team.
Goulart appreciated the initiative and gave her a chance to contribute more in the pitcher’s circle.
By the end of the season, she was one of the top pitchers in the Valley Oak League. Opposing coaches also took notice, as they named the senior righty Pitcher of the Year. The runner-up Lancers (10-2 VOL, 16-10 overall) received half of the top awards in the VOL, as corner outfielder Chloe Agueda was recognized as Offensive Player of the Year.
Oakdale (29-1-1) garnered the rest after winning the VOL and Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championships. Fresno State-bound Lexie Webb is MVP, senior shortstop Brittany Bye is Defensive Player of the Year and Larry Loger is Coach of the Year.
East Union was the only team in league to challenge the mighty Mustangs, who were crowned Cal-Hi Sports Division III State Team of the Year. Leonard had much to do with it, keeping the team in striking distance with four scoreless innings pitched in relief of a 5-2 loss at Oakdale.
In the rematch, East Union led 2-1 through 5 2/3 innings until errors helped open the floodgates for the Mustangs, who escaped with a 10-3 win.
Leonard’s emergence allowed former starting pitcher Shelby Cefalu to move to first base and solidify the defense. Leonard finished 10-5 with a 3.38 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 78 2/3 innings.
“Hayley Leonard had a great second half,” Goulart said. “She took over the starting position and just pitched phenomenal. She had two great outings against Oakdale — I think she pitched Oakdale better than anyone else did all year.
“She had an amazing attitude and hung tough. When she had her chance, she made the most of it. I’m super proud of her.”
Agueda busted out in her junior campaign, hitting .517 with five homers and 25 RBIs — all team-highs. She also drew 18 walks and tallied a .638 on-base percentage.
“She bombs it,” Goulart said. “She failed to reach base on only nine plate appearances in league, it’s crazy. At one point she had a .741 batting average. She was the best hitter in league, hands down. Just a great turnaround for her from last season.”
East Union had five total all-league selections. Cefalu (.431, five homers, 24 RBIs), headed to Dominican University, was selected to the first team along with sophomore third baseman Allie Parker (.375, 22 RBIs) and senior catcher Mackenzie Salgado (.386, 18 RBIs). It’s the second all-league selection for Parker.
Sierra junior third baseman Nicole Gardner (.317, 13 RBIs), Manteca junior shorts top Kaylee MacDannald (.429, three HRs, 13 RBIs) and Weston Ranch junior shortstop/catcher Julianna Lassiter (.534, 10 doubles, four triples, 64 RBIs) round out all-league honorees from area schools. Lassiter ranked No. 3 in the state with her RBI total, according to MaxPreps.
The All-VOL second team includes East Union shortstop Danielle Ramos, Sierra pitcher/outfielder Savannah Guzman, Manteca pitcher Alyssah Harnden and Weston Ranch pitcher/first baseman Stephanie Barba.
East Union’s Savina Molina, Manteca’s Isabella Gonzales, Sierra’s Lisette Mejias and Weston Ranch’s Evelyn Vance made the All-Defensive team.