Bruin hurlers get equal time

Twin aces Phelps, Nichol have Bear River on the cusp of fifth section title in six seasons
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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LAKE OF THE PINES ? Erin Nichol plans to cherish her final day on the softball diamond with her Bear River High ?family.? If her Bruin teammates are her sisters, Maddie Phelps is her identical twin. And no matter which pitcher coach Duane Zauner has used this spring, it has worked out more often than not. After Phelps tossed a gem Monday night, Nichol will take the ball tonight as Bear River goes after the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship. Softball teams usually have one designated ace, but Nichol and Phelps dominate equally and they?re happy to share the workload for the Bruins. ?We?ve been friends for a long time and we?ve played with, and against each other for a long time,? said Phelps, who will play at Sierra College next season. ?We get equal time pitching and I know I can trust her if I ever get in trouble.? Bear River?s one-two pitching punch began to take shape last season after Nichol suffered a devastating injury that left her hobbling for much of the spring. Nichol dislocated her kneecap ? which was as excruciating as it sounds ? prior to the season and had to stay off her left leg for two months. She was limited to 43 innings of work. Nichol returned with a vengeance this season, posting a 9-3 record and a 1.18 earned run average going into tonight?s game. ?I?m glad I went through that last year,? Nichol said. ?That made it more rewarding this season.? While Nichol was working her way back last season, Phelps stepped in and proved herself at the varsity level. But the Bruins fell to Benicia in the first round of the playoffs, ending a run of four straight section championships. Phelps helped Bear River avenge that loss with a 4-1 win over the Panthers on Monday. ?We had some errors early on, but once we got to the third inning we got loud and had a lot of energy,? Phelps said. ?In almost all of our playoff games we?ve been tied or behind and we?ve been able to come back, so I think that?s a good sign.? Today will likely be the last time Nichol laces up her cleats in a competitive softball game. She will attend the University of Portland and with demanding pre-med courses on the schedule Nichol is not playing softball. Nichol was in the pitcher?s circle the last time Bear River raised a section title banner in 2010. She?s back to her sharp form and can join Phelps in the 10-win club for the season with a win today. ?Erin?s just very determined,? Phelps said of her fellow hurler. ?Everything she puts her mind on, she can accomplish. She keeps calm and collected under pressure.? Today the Bruins are seeking their first section championship in Division III after winning four straight in Division IV from 2007-10. They?re hoping to send longtime coach Zauner into retirement with one last crown. ?It?s not only for us, we want to do it for him, too,? Nichol said. ?He deserves it,? Phelps added. ?He?s worked very hard for this program and we?re going to try our best to win it for him.? Bear River softball will undergo serious changes next season not only in the dugout, but on the field, as all but three players on the roster will graduate. Offensive sparkplugs Stephanie Ceo and Alyssa Reina leave huge shoes to fill and the pitcher?s circle will certainly miss its tandem aces. ?I?m going to miss these girls a ton,? Nichol said. ?They really are like my family and it?s hard to leave your family.?