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Hillgals one and done

Menefee excited for future with young team
By: Justin A. Lawson Journal Sports Writer
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It was a never-die attitude that brought the Placer High softball team to its first playoff appearance since 1997 and it was that same mentality that nearly helped it advance. The second-seeded Hillgals staged a four run, seventh-inning rally Tuesday in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs but couldn?t muster enough runs in a 6-4 loss to No. 3 seed River Valley (15-7) of Yuba City. ?Usually we come back in the bottom of innings and I didn?t want to go out getting shutout so I just figured that we?ve got to score some runs and I knew that we would,? Placer junior catcher Claire Hansen said. Placer finished second in the Pioneer Valley League behind an 8-2 league record and went 16-3 overall for a rare playoff run with a young team. But the run ended in the only single-elimination potion of the playoffs. The second round shifts to Sacramento Softball Complex where it becomes a double-elimination tourney. The Hillgals had just four hits and were in a 6-0 hole before the final inning but picked up momentum when Kailey Gaffney hit a leadoff single. Hansen, who went 2-for-3, smashed a fly ball to the left field fence that one-hopped over for a ground-rule double that kept Gaffney at third. Paige Maberry followed with what amounted to a swinging sacrifice bunt back to the pitcher that traveled slow enough to allow Gaffney to score. Senior third baseman Taylor Hill then stroked an RBI-single to left field to bring Placer within 6-2. The next batter, senior left fielder Abby Kendall, drove a ball to right field that slipped under Kaitlyn Combo?s glove and rolled to the fence. The error brought in Hill and allowed Kendall to move to third. After shortstop Brooke Stufflebean popped out to first, Haley Tupen delivered an RBI-single on a grounder to second to bring the score to 6-4 with two outs. Stellar freshman Kaelin Amrein, who started the game in the circle, then reentered the game with a chance to tie with one hit. But the comeback wasn?t to be as she flied out to right field on the first pitch she saw. ?We just didn?t get our bats going at the beginning of the game,? first-year Placer coach Doug Menefee said. ?Pitchers threw really well and we had the one inning where we gave up five and just couldn?t recover from it.? Amrein took the loss on 5 2/3 innings pitched with six strikeouts and six hits. Senior Jenna Knox pitched the final 1 1/3 innings of hitless ball. While the playoff run was short, Menefee was already excited to get to work on next season and with a number of key returners it?s easy to see why. ?By God, we?re a young team,? Menefee said. ?We?ve got some young kids coming up next year and I?m looking forward to coming back out here. This has been just an amazing run.?