For three innings it was smooth sailing for freshman pitcher Allison Walljasper and the Sierra High softball team, and after a few turbulent moments it took one swing of her bat to right the ship.
Walljasper’s go-ahead, three-run double in the bottom of the sixth inning helped the host Timberwolves secure a 7-4 win over upset-minded East Union as well as the outright Valley Oak League championship Tuesday.
Sierra (13-1, 22-1-1 overall), the state’s top-ranked Division-III club according to ESPN RISE, already had a share of its first-ever title clinch going in.
“The school deserves it after all these years, and we have a good group of girls here that deserves it,” Sierra coach Nick Olmo said.
On top of celebrating senior day, the program did its part in raising breast cancer awareness by having players and coaches from the sophomore and varsity teams wear pink.
Walljasper’s heroic hit was set up by Iyana Hughes’ game-tying bloop single to center field with two out. Daylynn Penner then reached on an infield error to load the bases.
“We had the right girl up at the right time, and she got the right pitch to hit,” Olmo said.
She just didn’t get the right bounce.
Walljasper’s knock was actually an unlucky bounce away from being a grand slam, as the ball caromed high off the top of the center-field fence and landed in the outfield.
She didn’t seem to mind being robbed of the homer after the game.
“When I came up to bat I was thinking I needed to get these runs in because I don’t to go into extra innings,” Walljasper said. “My arm was already sore and I wanted to save it for the playoffs.”
Sierra trailed 4-3 in the sixth after an uncharacteristic stretch of poor defensive play. Five total errors led to four unearned runs, and four of those miscues came in a three-run, fifth-inning rally that didn’t require any hits for East Union.
Tuesday’s game may serve as a needed wake-up call going into the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-IV playoffs. It was the first time all season that Sierra came from behind to win a ballgame.
“I don’t think we’ve had to battle back like that, we’ve always been up,” said Daylynn Penner, one of three Sierra seniors recognized before the game. “But I believed in my team that we could battle back and get the win. It was nerve-wracking, but after Ally hit that (double) I knew we had the game.”
Based on the previous battle between the crosstown rivals — a 7-1 Sierra win in which Walljasper took a no-hitter into the seventh inning — Tuesday’s contest wasn’t supposed to be close, and at the start it appeared as if history was about to repeat itself.
Hughes (3 for 5, two runs) led off the home half of the first with a double, and No. 5 hitter Elia Vasquez later broke the ice with a two-run double. An RBI fielder’s choice from Lexus Barnes (2 for 3) made it 3-0 — typically a large enough lead for Walljasper and her rock-solid defense to hold.
East Union (8-6, 14-11-1), a tradition-rich program that just completed its first ‘down’ year in over a decade, looked to its three four-year standouts to get back in the game.
Walljasper (eight strikeouts, no walks) was perfect from the pitcher’s circle through 3 2/3 innings until Cassie Waggy and Brittany LaMar belted back-to-back hits for the Lancers. LaMar finished 2 for 3, tallying the Lancers’ third and final hit in the sixth.
Jillian Goulart, a top center fielder who has had to pitch for EU in the final weeks of the season, bounced back from Sierra’s early barrage and at one point retired seven straight batters.
All three are signed to continue their careers collegiately, with Goulart heading to Simpson University, LaMar to San Jose State and Waggy to Lehigh University.
“Jillian is not a pitcher, but she’s going to fight, and Cassie and LaMar are tigers,” East Union coach Brian Goulart said. “The challenge for our team now is to fill those shoes.
“Our younger players need to take stock in themselves and see what the four-year seniors did all year long and throughout their careers and become like them. That’s the requirement for us to be any good.”
Sierra 8, East Union 1
Katelynn Perkins highlighted Sierra’s six-run, two-out rally in the fourth inning with a three-RBI homer. Perkins, who finished 2 for 3 at the plate, also did the job from the chalked circle, striking out seven in a six-inning three-hitter.
Gianna Lenoci added a 3-for-4 effort that included an RBI double. Rosie Reynolds contributed an RBI single and a run for the Timberwolves, who capped the season 12-2 in the VOL and 18-4 overall.