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Bear River feeling, bringing heat

Defending champions reload, but carry a target as the PVL favorite again
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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The Bear River High softball team lost a pair of college players to graduation last spring, but coaches around the Pioneer Valley League aren’t feeling too sorry for Bruins’ skipper Duane Zauner. Bear River’s Courtney Ceo and Katie Mathis are both headed to major college programs, but they’re only juniors. The Bruins have plenty of talent around their two stars as they seek a third straight Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV title. Senior Kenzie Billings is Bear River’s ace pitcher. She said there are expectations that come with defending back-to-back section titles. “There’s definitely pressure,” Billings said. “But we’re still trying to see what kind of capabilities we have as a team. It’s definitely a motivation to try and win it again. If we’re taking grounders and we miss one, we always want to take another one.” Senior Kathryn Rabak is one of the unsung leaders for the Bruins (7-1 overall, 2-0 PVL). She will play catcher this season after the graduation of Jenna Wermes, who is now playing at Chico State. Rabak is stellar defensively and should provide power at the plate. Senior outfielders Tori Humbard and Sierra Pruss bring speed to a lineup that is loaded with it. Ceo is the quintessential leadoff hitter with her bunting ability and Mathis is one of the quickest players in the area. “Our speed is definitely a factor,” Zauner said. Freshman Stephanie Ceo, Courtney’s sister, is already making an impact on both sides of the ball. Freshman Erin Nichol has been impressive pitching in relief of Billings and hitting for the Bruins. Junior outfielders Jen Brooks and Taylor Kimble are strong and infielders Brittani Nix, Christianne Thill and Courtney Edwards add quality depth. Zauner is excited about the potential of his team, but realizes his team has its weaknesses. “We have six returners and eight newcomers, so we’re still trying to mix everybody in,” Zauner said. “We have some girls who still have to learn how to play at the varsity level.” After beating Placer 9-0 Tuesday, Bear River faces a test at Lincoln on Thursday. The Zebras are also 2-0 in the PVL. Billings is confident the Bruins can make another run at a section title if they reach their potential. “A lot of us have been playing together for a long time and we have some new players that have added a lot of excitement,” Billings said. Placer Coach Don Scott is realistic about his Placer High softball team’s outlook for the season. He’s also optimistic, believing if things fall into place, the Hillgals could contend for one of the PVL’s three playoff spots. “It’s always the ultimate goal to make the playoffs,” said Scott, who is in his second year as the Hillgals’ coach. “We have some improvements to make, but we have the girls to do it. It just depends on how they come together.” Senior pitcher Brooke Swisley is on the of main leaders for Placer, picking up all four of their wins this season. Swisley is also one of the team’s top hitters, posting a .355 batting average through 10 games. Senior Tia Wright is steady defensively at third base and swings a potent bat with four extra-base hits in eight games. The Hillgals feature several talented sophomores, including Morgan Taylor, Kacy Romero and Taylor Graham. Taylor has a team-best 12 hits and 10 RBIs. Romero has two doubles and is invaluable as a defensive utility player. Graham is an excellent catcher and leads Placer with four doubles. “She’s got a lot of promise,” Scott said of Graham. “I think she could play at the college level.” Juniors Devin Gavrilko and Courtney Phillips are both hitting over .300 and senior Melissa Scheller has played well at second base. Placer is off to a 0-2 start in the PVL, but the Hillgals aren’t hanging their heads. “It’s a young team, but there’s a positive atmosphere here and they have a lot of fight,” Scott said. “I think as the season progresses, we’ll get a lot better.” Colfax What many of her players lack in experience, they make up for in passion and love for the game. Still, Colfax High softball coach Laura Campbell knows that experience will make her ballclub better – and there’s only one way for her players to gain it. “We have five freshmen out there, and even (some of) our juniors haven’t played ASA or travel ball,” Campbell said. “They need to be in the field to learn the game. Hopefully game time will do that.” With just four starters returning from last year’s 14-8 squad, the Falcons are 3-5 overall and 0-1 in Pioneer Valley League play entering today’s road game at Mesa Verde. Three of the Falcons’ returning starters are infielders. Courtney Hardin mans the first base spot, fellow senior Michelle Cavalier plays second and junior Cassandra Campbell is the starting shortstop. “Our infield is going to be our rock, that’s for sure,” Laura Campbell said. Colfax’s fourth returning starter, senior pitcher Cara Spence, played third base last year. That position now belongs to senior Jessica Fitzhugh. Spence has been the Falcons’ No. 2 option in the pitchers’ circle the last two seasons, though she has always had the ability to be the team’s “workhorse,” Laura Campbell said. “This is her year to take the mound and go with it,” the coach said. Spence is also Colfax’s top returning hitter, having batted .328 with 16 RBIs last season, according to MaxPreps.com. Campbell and Cavalier weren’t far behind with batting averages of .327 and .323, respectively; each drove in at least 10 runs. Three freshmen are playing in the outfield for Colfax this season — Mariah Turcotte in left field, Ashley Scott in center and Jordan Gerlach in right. “Ashley Scott tracks the ball really well for a freshman,” Laura Campbell said. Splitting duties behind the plate this season are junior Marqi Bearry and freshman Caressa Sharpe. Rounding out the Falcons’ roster are senior outfielder Courtney Weisman, junior second baseman/outfielder Shannon Elkinton, junior first baseman/outfielder Jessica Ketteringham and freshman pitcher Randi Anderson. Laura Campbell said the PVL title race could be tough to predict this year. “Lincoln should be the best team by far,” the coach said. “Whitney’s always tough, Bear River’s always tough, and you can’t count out Placer and Mesa Verde, either. “Hopefully we can play some good games out there that people will want to watch.”