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Bruin up another title run?

Bear River young, but there’s plenty of talent surrounding star seniors Mathis, Ceo
By: Ray Hacke Journal Sports Writer
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LAKE OF THE PINES – Courtney Ceo and Katie Mathis have never gone through a high school softball season without winning a Sac-Joaquin Section title. If Bear River High’s NCAA Division I-bound middle infielders have anything to say about it, they never will. “To do it all four years would be amazing, especially with this being our last year,” said Mathis, the Bruins’ second baseman. “We have done it all three years, and a fourth would be even sweeter. It would definitely be an awesome way to close out high school softball.” Ceo, the Bruins’ University of Oregon-bound shortstop, and Mathis, who is headed for San Diego State this fall, are two of just three starters Bear River has returning from last year’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championship squad. The other is Ceo’s younger sister Stephanie, a sophomore who plays first base. Still, while the Bruins will field a starting lineup comprised mainly of freshmen and sophomores this season, opposing teams underestimate them at their peril. As of Wednesday they were already 5-1, having won last weekend’s Argonaut Dandelion Classic, and 1-0 in Pioneer Valley League play, having routed El Dorado 13-3 on Tuesday. “Our only weakness is our number of players who do not have a lot of varsity experience,” Bear River coach Duane Zauner said. “And in our first six games, they’ve made it not a weakness. They’ve stepped up to the challenge and worked hard at the plate.” Three different pitchers have led Bear River to each of its three consecutive section titles, and sophomore Erin Nichol is looking to become the fourth. She’s pitched four shutouts this season, has a 1.22 ERA and has held opposing hitters to a .105 batting average. She’s also struck out 32 batters while walking just seven. “She’s very competitive,” Mathis said. “I see her drive — she wants to win every game, and she’s not going to give it up easy.” Bear River has gotten a ton of offensive production from the top of its batting order. None of the Bruins’ first four batters — Courtney Ceo, Stephanie Ceo, Mathis and sophomore catcher Alyssa Reina — was hitting below .450 as of Wednesday, with Stephanie Ceo and Mathis batting .500 or higher. More than that, the four combined for 19 extra-base hits in the Bruins’ first six games, with Stephanie Ceo hitting the team’s lone home run and Courtney Ceo connecting for four triples. The Ceos and Mathis scored a combined 30 runs in those contests. “We have three extremely fast girls at the top of the lineup,” Mathis said. “Most of the time one of us is standing on second or third or we’ve already scored by the time our No. 4 hitter comes up.” Joining the Ceos and Mathis in the infield is freshman third baseman Hallie Heath, who is hitting .438. In the outfield, the Bruins have senior Christianne Thill in right and sophomore Courtney Edwards in center. Edwards has already shown her ability to cover a wide expanse of ground to deny opposing hitters extra-base hits, and she’s batting a solid .357 in the No. 9 spot. The left-field position is more up for grabs. Senior Taylor Kimble and sophomore Cambria Holcomb have been battling for that spot, though it may ultimately go to freshman Cassie Brazeale, whom Zauner is having a difficult time keeping out of the lineup. “She could be a real player for us in the coming years, if not this year,” the coach said of Brazeale, who has hit .625 in a reserve role. Rounding out the Bruins’ roster is their lone junior, first baseman/outfielder Megan Caster. As of Wednesday, Bear River had gone 89-12 with Courtney Ceo and Mathis in the lineup. Another section championship is the goal, however, and Mathis has no doubt her teammates will help them get there. “Defense and offense, we have it this year like we’ve had it all the others,” she said. “We work well together as a team. The pitching’s there. We can definitely do it again this year.”