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Bruins back on top

Bear River dominates in Zauner?s final game to clinch fifth section title in six seasons
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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SACRAMENTO ? The storybook ending to Duane Zauner?s glorious coaching run at Bear River High included a career day from one of the greatest Bruins of all time. Senior Stephanie Ceo put on a show in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III title game Wednesday. She belted a leadoff home run, blasted a grand slam in the fourth inning and was spectacular on defense all game long as Bear River defeated Whitney, 9-3. The Bruins won their fifth section crown in six seasons and sent Zauner into retirement with a tremendous display of softball in their finale. It was a dramatic turnaround from an error-plagued 10-9 loss to the Wildcats back on March 9. ?We played terrible defense that game,? Zauner said. ?Going 1-4 at the beginning of the year was tough, but they knew they were going to be good. They just had to get some confidence.? Bear River?s confidence was at an all-time high in the postseason. The Bruins went unbeaten in the playoffs, avenging a 2011 playoff loss to Benicia and making it look easy against Whitney. Ceo?s solo homer to start the game came two pitches after the Wildcats? third baseman lost her foul popup in the sun and it fell to the ground. In the third inning, Alyssa Reina was hit by a pitch to spark a two-out rally. Mackenzie Hollister had an infield single and Erin Nichol stroked a single to left field to score Reina. Nichol flirted with danger in the second inning, but second baseman Ali Thill made a nice play on a ground ball to help the Bruins get out of a bases-loaded jam. Bear River?s big blow came in the fourth as Jenny Astwood?s single started a rally. Ashleigh Higginbotham was hit by a pitch and Kaleigh Casey laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt. Thill followed with a bunt-single to bring up Ceo, who turned on an inside fastball and sent it over the right field fence for a grand slam. ?My goal coming into this game was making sure I saw the ball all the way into my bat and saw the ball all the way to my glove,? said Ceo, who is headed to the University of Texas to resume her career next year. ?I couldn?t ask for a better game. I?m so excited for my team. It?s definitely not a solo thing. Without everyone?s defense, without everyone?s hitting we couldn?t have done it and I?m just so proud of everyone.? Whitney showed signs of life in the sixth inning as Kierra Keller had an RBI-single and another run came in on an errant throw from the outfield. Keller then raced home on a wild pitch to slice Bear River?s lead to 6-3. But in the bottom of the sixth, Cambria Holcomb had an infield-single to score Thill. Ceo, who displayed perfect touch on a bunt-single earlier in the inning, scored on a wild pitch and Hollister?s single scored Holcomb to push the Bruins? lead back to six runs. Maddie Phelps got the final four outs in relief of Nichol, who won her second section title game as a pitcher. After dominating the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV softball ranks with four straight championships from 2007-10, Bear River dominated the Division III field in 2012. ?In Division IV there wasn?t as much competition and when we moved up we raised to that challenge,? Reina said. ?We lost to Benicia last year (in the first round) and we knew we had to be better to compete.? Bear River finished the season 20-6-2. The players all signed a ball and Ceo presented it to Zauner following the game. The veteran coach sent his star senior home from practice on Tuesday because she was ill and was hurting. The extra rest certainly was welcomed. ?Maybe I should have sent the whole team home from practice yesterday,? Zauner joked. The coach said he planned his retirement two years ago when the nine seniors in the class of 2012 were sophomores. ?I was tired back then, but I made a commitment when they were sophomores to finish their careers,? Zauner said. ?We had so much fun. They?re a complete team.?