Brian Goulart and his East Union softball team aren’t done celebrating yet.
After punctuating its impressive season with a Sac-Joaquin Section Division III title on May 20, the Lancers (30-3) have been named Cal-Hi Sports Division III State Team of the Year. It’s the third straight season that a program in town has earned a mythical state championship, following Sierra softball in 2013 and Manteca baseball in 2014.
“Unbelievable,” East Union coach Brian Goulart said. “Perfect way to finish off the year. You don’t think about things like that until the season is over. It’s one of those things you dream about but don’t believe it when it happens. We’re so excited.”
Amador Valley of Pleasanton (Division I), Yucaipa (Division II), Paraclete of Lancaster (Division IV) and Riverdale (Division V) were also recognized by Cal-Hi Sports as the best teams in their respective divisions. Yuciapa doubles as the overall State Team of the Year.
East Union finished No. 14 in Cal-Hi Sports’ overall state rankings and is one of just four teams listed to have racked up 30 or more wins. In the MaxPreps computer rankings the Lancers finished as the top overall team in the SJS, No. 16 in the state and 28th in the nation.
East Union definitely earned its postseason accolades by playing stiff competition from start to finish. The Lancers won the St. Mary’s Tournament and took third in the Nor-Cal Classic’s Platinum Division, beating eventual Central Section Division I champion Clovis (33-6) in the quarterfinals before losing to Elk Grove (28-4) — another highly-ranked team out of the SJS — in the semis. Other notable wins included mercy-shortened blowouts of Tracy (20-9) and Ripon (23-8), the SJS Division V runner-up which put together its best season in school history.
East Union then went undefeated in the competitive Valley Oak League, a run that includes two wins over defending SJS Division IV champion Oakdale and eventual-Division IV champion and Sierra.
“We always want to play good teams,” Goulart said. “We had some really good nonleague games and we were tested a few times in league by our rivals.”
It didn’t get any easier from there.
The Division III playoff bracket was arguably the toughest out of the seven in the section. Second-seeded East Union clobbered No. 15 American Canyon 19-0 in the opener but was tested in the second round by Lincoln of Placer County. The Lancers, down 3-0 going into the bottom of the first inning, ultimately prevailed 9-5 and then defeated Ponderosa 7-1 to advance to the winners-bracket semifinal and set up a rematch with top-seeded Pioneer, the two-time defending champ in this division.
It was the Patriots who handed East Union its first loss of the season, squeaking out a 6-5 decision in eight innings in the Albie Aware Cancer Foundation Game on March 28. Pioneer again got the better of the Lancers 4-2, knocking them to the consolation semifinal where they topped Vanden, 7-4.
“The good thing about losing to Pioneer the night before (the finals) was that it gave us the opportunity to win 30 games because we had to beat them twice,” Goulart said.
And that they did, rather decisively, too. The Lancers pummeled Pioneer 12-1 and continued to roll in the winner-take-all
“It was the most exciting atmosphere I’ve ever been involved in,” Goulart said. “We were fortunate to play our best at the end and it was so rewarding because it was an emotional run. Every team in that division was tough; we had to go through the gauntlet. I don’t think I slept at all that week and I usually sleep real good.”
The section title is East Union’s third overall (1993, 2004) and second under Goulart, who also has led the team to four runner-up finishes. Goulart attributed the 2015 success to his coaching staff — Randy Friend, Dale Souza, Deon Ward and Steffany Zanini — and the players themselves.
The team’s biggest strength was its depth. With returning sophomore pitcher Alexis Erich concentrating on hitting all season because of an elbow injury, other sophomores stepped up in the circle for the Lancers. The righty-lefty combo of Delaney Pamplin and Mikayla Bongi were both 15-game winners, and Pamplin was named VOL Pitcher of the Year.
Offensively, East Union had power and speed up and down the lineup starting with Oregon-bound Cherish Burks, the lone senior on the club. Behind her were third-year varsity juniors Samantha Owen (the VOL MVP), Alejandra Rascon and Michelle Castro. Each of the veterans also played integral roles on defense with Burks at center field, Owen at shortstop, Rascon at catcher and Castro at first base.
Taylor Ward, another third-year junior, and Erich were also huge in the middle of the order. Erich led East Union with a .644 batting average and 10 home runs.
“It makes my job easy having a coaching staff and players like that,” Goulart said.