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Bruins rally late for third straight

Gutsy effort by Billings, Ceos’ heroics lead Bear River to third section title
By: Ray Hacke Journal Sports Writer
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STOCKTON – With the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championship on the line, the game tied 1-1 in the bottom of the seventh inning and two strikes on her, Courtney Ceo needed a moment to breathe. So she took one. Moments later, the Bear River High shortstop gave her teammates a chance to breathe as well. Ceo belted a 3-2 pitch over the right fielder’s head, allowing her younger sister Stephanie to score from second base and clinching the Bruins’ third straight section championship with a 2-1 victory over Oakdale on Saturday at Arnaiz Stadium. Before coming through with the winning hit, Courtney Ceo stepped out of the batter’s box for a moment to chat with Bear River coach Duane Zauner and calm her nerves. “She said, ‘I need a little more time to breathe, Coach,’” said Zauner, whose team finished the season 25-4 overall and is 14-2 in the past three Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs. “I said, ‘Good – take some time to breathe.’ Then she stepped up to the plate and she delivered.” Officially, Courtney Ceo was credited with a double because she only needed two bases to drive in Stephanie Ceo with the winning run. However, the hit was technically a home run — Courtney made it all the way around the bases before the Mustangs could get the ball back to the infield. “I was just running as hard as I could,” she said. “I wasn’t going to stop until Stephanie crossed the plate.” The hit provided a measure of redemption for Courtney. The junior made a throwing error in the second inning that allowed Oakdale to tie the game at 1-1, and the score stayed that way until Ceo’s hit ended the pressure-packed contest. “I got really down on myself after making that throw,” said Ceo, who finished 2-for-4 and was the only player on either team with multiple hits. “It took me out of my next at-bat, and I wasn’t in a good mind. … Me getting that hit was a way to give back to my team after making that error.” Driving in her sister with the winning run made the winning hit “really special,” Courtney said. “We’ve been the 9 and 1 batters the whole year,” said Courtney, who hit in the leadoff spot. “We’ve been working together the whole year to score runs and help our pitchers out. It was awesome for my little sister too.” Courtney Ceo wasn’t the only Bruin who needed a chance to breathe Saturday. Senior right-hander Kenzie Billings (20-3) felt the pressure of pitching in a tight game and rose to the occasion, tossing a two-hitter while battling through a knee injury. “I took a lot of Motrin to get through it all,” Billings said, laughing. “It was just, ‘One more pitch, one more pitch, get through this inning.’ I had difficulty breathing — I was like, ‘Come on guys, score. Let’s stay pumped.’” Bear River’s three championships have each come with a different pitcher carrying most of the load. Last year it was Kelly Shepard. Two years ago it was Brittany Ceo. “Usually when you have a ride of two or three section championships, you do it with one pitcher,” Zauner said. “And next year we’ll have another pitcher.” Zauner’s praise for Billings was especially high. The senior brought a 0.79 ERA into the game and finished the season with an even lower one after not giving up an earned run Saturday. “From day one, she asked me how much she was going to pitch this season,” the coach said. “I told her it was her job to lose, and you saw today that she would not let (herself) lose that job.” Billings and the Ceo sisters weren’t the only heroes for the Bruins. Junior second baseman Katie Mathis had a bunt single, scored the game’s first run on a base hit by senior center fielder Tori Humbard and also made a diving catch of a line drive in the seventh inning. “The game could have gone a completely different way if it wasn’t for (Mathis) being back there behind first base,” Courtney Ceo said of Mathis’ catch. “That was one of the best defensive plays of the game, if not the best. That’s what Katie does — it’s awesome to have someone like that in the infield.” Junior left fielder Jen Brooks and freshman designated player Alyssa Reina also had hits for the Bruins. Courtney Ceo has been part of all three of Bear River’s title-winning teams the past three seasons and would love to end her senior year with a fourth. “We have four seniors leaving who were a big part of the team,” she said. “That will have a big impact on what we do next year. “We all want (a fourth title). We’ll just have to take it one game at a time and see what happens.”