High stakes aside, Saturday’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV title game played out like just another day in the Valley Oak League.
Oakdale and East Union, VOL co-champs who split their games this season, settled the series on the section’s grandest stage. The Mustangs prevailed 3-0 with senior pitchers Rylie Pena and Melinda Koppinger blanking the Lancers on seven hits.
“It’s always been Oakdale and East Union with Sierra getting in there the last few years,” said coach Larry Loger, who wrapped up his 14th season with the Mustangs. “But we’ve always battled with EU.”
Oakdale (24-5-1) controlled the game with 11 hits, pitching and three run-producing at-bats – a fielder’s choice in the second by Caylie O’Neal, a two-out hit in the sixth by Anneliese Davis and a solid double in the seventh by Lauren Sanders.
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Pena went 51/3 innings and kept East Union (25-4) off balance with her drop and changeup. When she labored in the later innings, she was relieved by Koppinger – the Mustangs’ ace – who got the final five outs while East Union threatened.
The title was Oakdale’s fifth overall and second in three years.
“The adrenaline kicked in today. We knew East Union would be difficult,” Pena said. “We worked the entire season for this moment.”
The game drew attention to the all-around quality of the VOL, which claimed its fourth consecutive section title. Sierra’s Allie Walljasper, who will next pitch for Louisiana State University, concluded her amazing prep career on Friday but not before she brought the Timberwolves two section titles – in 2011 and 2013.
Sierra finished third this year in the VOL while Oakdale and EU exchanged blows. The Mustangs beat East Union 3-1 on March 28, but the Lancers answered 3-0 on April 30. East Union won the tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed, which worked out beautifully ... for Oakdale.
The top seed escorted East Union into the bracket’s gauntlet – opening matchups against Pacheco’s Gia Rodoni and Walljasper, the latter resulting in a 7-5 loss. Meanwhile, Oakdale cruised to two double-digit victories before edging Sierra 5-4.
The Lancers clawed through the losers’ bracket with a walk-off win over Ceres and an avenging 11-1 decision over the Timberwolves. Their pitching was stretched, however, and coach Brian Goulart opted to go with freshman Delaney Pamplin. Before this week, she had logged exactly one inning of varsity experience. Pamplin delivered 61/3 gutsy innings against Oakdale.
“Delaney pitched great and was a super surprise,” Goulart said. “We just did not have the clutch hits to put the pressure on them. We’re young, but you still have to have purposeful at-bats. Oakdale had them.”
The teams combined for three double plays, two by the Lancers but the most important one by Oakdale. East Union, with runners on the corners and one out in the third, was denied the tying run when catcher Maddi Hackbarth caught Jordan Vinson’s attempted bunt. When base runner Cherish Burks tried to advance to second, Hackbarth threw to sister Kindra Hackbarth – the centerfielder – who applied the tag.
“We’ve worked that play two or three times this season,” Kindra Hackbarth said. “I just stayed around the lip (of the infield) and checked if she would go.”
East Union started five sophomores and two freshmen, so it expects to contend down the road. So does Oakdale, though its experience provided the edge this day.
“This was a real softball game,” Loger assessed. “Rylie did a great job. Both (Pena and Koppinger) could have been our aces this year.”