During late spring, high school seniors' minds often drift toward saying goodbyes, parties and post-graduation frolic.
That's not the case for the Bear River softball team. Though nine of the 12 players are seniors, there is little evidence of senioritis among the Bruins.
Ninth-ranked Bear River is clearly a team on a mission.
After losing four of their first five games to ranked teams, the dialed-in Bruins are 15-5-2.
Monday, the Division III Bruins beat D-I Delta River League front-runner Ponderosa 5-3 in a nonleague game. Today, they can clinch the Pioneer Valley League championship with a victory at Center.
Bear River hopes to make a deep playoff push after last year's disappointing first-round exit. The players also hope to send coach Duane Zauner into retirement with his fifth Sac-Joaquin Section championship in six seasons.
"They really want to be successful," Zauner said. "They're definitely on a mission, especially after what happened last year."
Zauner, 56, has coached at Bear River since the school opened in 1985. He was the baseball coach the first eight years and the softball coach the last 18. He has coached junior varsity football for 22 years.
"I'm entering another phase in my life," Zauner said. "I've got three more years in the classroom, but I've got grandkids that are starting to play baseball in the Wheatland area who I'd like to watch play, and I have a granddaughter in Utah who I'd like to be able to visit. It's time to let someone else have all this fun."
But not without one last stand led by scholarship signees Stephanie Ceo, a shortstop headed to the University of Texas, and Alyssa Reina, a catcher, headed for North Dakota State. Both were Bee All-Metro first-team selections as juniors.
Reina has been phenomenal both behind and at the plate. She's hitting .614 with 25 RBIs and seven home runs. She has 10 stolen bases and has tossed out 14 baserunners.
Ceo, the last of four sisters to play for Zauner, is hitting .458 with five triples, three home runs and 16 stolen bases.
Third baseman Cambria Holcomb (.432), first baseman Mackenzie Hollister (.409) and outfielder Ashleigh Higginbotham (.388) also are hitting better than the impressive team average of .387.
Seniors Maddie Phelps (6-3, 1.31 ERA) and Erin Nichol (9-2, 0.83 ERA) rotate on the mound, an arrangement Zauner says only works because of the pitchers' unselfishness.
Last season, Benicia ousted Bear River 9-2 in the single-elimination opening round of the D-III playoffs. The Bruins had won four consecutive titles in D-IV before moving to D-III in 2011.
With an enrollment of a little more than 800 students, Bear River is truly a D-IV school, but it now competes in D-III. The Bruins likely will host a school with at least twice the enrollment when the playoffs begin May 18.
"We like the challenge," said Zauner, whose 142-25-3 record since 2007 is an area best.
Down-to-wire finish Third-ranked Ponderosa, No. 4 Pleasant Grove, No. 5 Sheldon and No. 6 St. Francis are all top-10 teams, but one will see its season come to a close today without a postseason berth.
Only three teams from the Delta River League advance to the playoffs.
A St. Francis win today over Ponderosa would force a three-way tie for first among St. Francis, Ponderosa and the winner of today's Sheldon-Pleasant Grove game.
A St. Francis loss and a Sheldon loss would give Sheldon the No. 3 playoff spot, based on its two league wins over the Troubadours.
A St. Francis loss and a Pleasant Grove loss would lead to section tiebreaker procedures since they split league games.
THE BEE'S TOP 20
Records through Monday; PR previous record
|1. Del Oro||17-4-2||1|
|4. Pleasant Grove||16-9||5|
|6. St. Francis||15-8-1||3|
|7. Casa Roble||15-4||4|
|9. Bear River||15-5-2||12|
|10. Vista del Lago||17-4||13|
|13. Elk Grove||14-5-1||8|
|14. Cosumnes Oaks||18-6-1||14|
|18. Del Campo||13-6-1||9|