It has the potential to be the game of the year in the Stanislaus District.
At the very least, Thursday's battle between Orestimba High and East Union in the NorCal Classic at the Tracy Sports Complex will provide a personal duel that makes this is must-see softball.
Orestimba (10-1) and East Union (9-2) have been the district's premier programs during the last decade. Just last season, Orestimba went 26-0 and earned a mythical state title from CalHiSports.com, and EU reached the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV final.
"Our goal is to win a section banner again, and this is a game that will help prepare for that challenge," said Orestimba coach Kasey Cooper, whose Warriors were Division V section champs last spring. "We've got a great group, eight seniors back from last year, and they're as competitive as any you're ever going to find."
They better be, because the Warriors will run into a buzz saw when they face the Lancers at 9 a.m. in the NorCal Classic. The 48-team event features three pools — with teams separated by skill level — but there won't be a game over the next three days that will attract more interest than the opener.
East Union pitcher Erin Arevalo is a statewide strikeout sensation. She led California with 430 strikeouts as a junior, a performance that helped her earn a scholarship from Georgia. She's No. 1 again this year, having struck out 186 of 256 batters.
"I'm excited for our hitters to face her," said Cooper, whose club is hitting .350 and averaging 8.4 runs per game. "Some of our girls have faced Erin in travel ball. I've been picking their brain to get an idea of how she'll be pitching to us."
While Arevalo's array of pitches is likely to overwhelm the bottom half of the Warriors' lineup, she should get a test from the top five. That includes No. 3 hitter Juliana Santos, who is batting .697 with nine doubles, three homers and 24 RBIs.
When Santos steps in to face Arevalo, it will be one of the most anticipated at-bats the district has hosted — a showdown between two of the nation's top recruits. Santos committed to LSU before her junior season and could face Arevalo for years to come, since LSU and Georgia are top-25 programs and Southeastern Conference rivals.
Santos has yet to strike out in 36 plate appearances, and Orestimba's top five have struck out 14 times in 183 appearances — one strikeout per every 13 trips to the plate.
Compare that with Arevalo, who strikes out three of every four batters she faces, and it's clear something will have to give.
"Making contact will boost our confidence and maybe shake her confidence," Cooper said.
Orestimba was in the mid-tier pool last year and won two games before the final day of the tournament was rained out. The Warriors are in the top division this season, and the competition includes Bear River — which beat EU in last year's section final — Central Section power Clovis and St. Francis, one of Sacramento's top programs.
For brackets and live scoring updates, see the tourney's Web site at www.eteamz.active.com/norcalclassic.
Bee staff writer Richard T. Estrada can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.