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Stangs blank East Union in section final
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STOCKTON — They aren’t as imposing as Allie Walljasper inside the pitching circle. They don’t have the stuff to collect strikeouts by the dozens, nor do they have a spot reserved on an NCAA Division I program.

Yet, Oakdale hurlers Rylie Pena and Melinda Koppinger do have some things in common with Sierra’s LSU-bound ace.

For one, they combined for a shut out of East Union’s balanced and power-packed offense; Walljasper is the only other pitcher to blank the Lancers this year. Pena and Koppinger are also two-time Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV champions, like Walljasper.

The Mustang tandem achieved both Saturday in the postseason finale held at Arnaiz Stadium, silencing East Union in a 3-0 win that secured Oakdale’s sixth section title. East Union (25-4) knocked Walljasper and defending champion Sierra out of contention in Friday night’s consolation semifinal.

“Melinda and I were on our game,” said Pena, who pitched the first 5 1/3 innings and gave up seven hits and a walk against three strikeouts. “We were ready for this moment this whole year. Our defense came through in the clutch and made so many plays. They always had our back on the field.”

Koppinger, Oakdale’s usual starter, surrendered a hit and hit one batter in her 1 2/3-inning save. She is heading to Ohio Valley University, an NCAA Division II school. She and Pena got all the run support they needed when Caylie O’Neal grounded out to score Haley Fuller in the top of the second inning. Reserve infielder Anneliese Davis drove in Fuller with a single to left in the sixth, and Lauren Sanders doubled in the seventh to plate O’Neal. Davis and leadoff hitter Kindra Hackbarth each had two hits for the Mustangs (24-5-1), who totaled 11.

East Union did have plenty of chances to crack the goose egg. Nine total base runners were left stranded, six of them in scoring position. In the sixth, Michelle Castro and Samantha Owen roped back-to-back singles and ended up in scoring position with one out. That was Oakdale coach Larry Loger’s cue to replace Pena with Koppinger, who hit Alexis Erich to load the bases with two out. Koppinger escaped danger by inducing a pop fly to left field.

She worked her magic again in the seventh when East Union’s Deja Guzman (infield single) and Cherish Burks (sacrifice bunt, fielder’s choice) were on second and third following a throwing error. Two routine grounders later the Mustangs were celebrating near base.

“It wasn’t so much their pitching; we were hitting solid hits they were just right at people,” Burks said. “We were hoping for a breakthrough, but it happens.”

In many ways the Lancers did have a breakthrough this season. They returned to a section final after last doing so in 2005 and 06 but failed to collect the program’s first blue banner since 2004. East Union also garnered its first Valley Oak League championship in five years, one that is shared with Oakdale.

“It’s really great that we were able to get this far this season,” said East Union third baseman Jordan Vinson, one of just seniors on the team and a four-year varsity starter. She had never previously made the playoffs.

“There’s no better season to do it than your last. Even though we didn’t come out on top it’s still a victory for us and the program. With these girls coming back next year they have something to look forward to.”

With the Oregon-committed Burks leading the charge, East Union has all but two of its players returning next season. It’s a roster dominated by underclassmen, some of which joined the varsity club for the playoff run after winning a piece of the VOL crown at the sophomore level.

“It’s a great learning experience,” Burks said. “I felt like every single person on this team stepped up and improved so much from the beginning to the end of this season. I couldn’t be more proud of our team.”

The Lancers have a true pitching staff shaping up for future seasons. Erich is a freshman who handled most of the work inside the chalked circle this season, but she was hampered by arm and hand soreness all week.

That opened the door for lower-level call-ups Delaney Pamlpin and Mikayla Bongi — also freshmen — to gain some valuable postseason experience. Pamplin made four appearances last week and won two of them. She got the starting nod for Saturday’s contest, as Erich was a late scratch. Bongi, a lefty, retired both of the batters she faced in relief.

East Union coach Brian Goulart sees no point in keeping any of them on the sophomore team next year.

“We’ll find innings for all of them,” Goulart said. “That potential thing, I hope that label doesn’t stay with us. Yeah we’re young and talented but are we going to get any better? I think we still have some stuff to work through.”

To contact Jonamar Jacinto email or call 209.249.3538.