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Ponderosa comes out of tough Delta River League with title, D-I cred

Published: Wednesday, May. 16, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 2C
Last Modified: Thursday, May. 17, 2012 - 9:14 am

Never underestimate the importance of harmony.

Ponderosa softball coach Dwayne Brekke thinks good vibes, as much as anything, helped the Bruins win the Delta River League. They nosed out perennial league and Sac-Joaquin Section powers Pleasant Grove and Sheldon.

"We may have been a little bit of a surprise," said Brekke, a 55-year-old retired contractor now working as a campus monitor at Ponderosa. "But credit the girls for all their hard work. The chemistry is really good on this team. We have 14 players, and they all add value and have accepted their roles."

Ponderosa athletic director Tyson Escobar thinks Brekke, the Bruins' second-year coach, deserves some props, too.

"Dwayne did a great job with the team," Escobar said in an email. "They were never expected to make the playoffs, but with constant positive encouragement and hard work, they persevered through a very difficult league schedule."

Ponderosa found the going rough last season in its maiden voyage in the Delta River League, which some have dubbed the "Super League" because it has produced four of the past five section D-I champions.

Despite a 16-7 record, Ponderosa in 2011 finished fifth in the league at 4-6 and failed to make the postseason for the first time in five seasons.

This year, Ponderosa (17-7) won the league with an 8-2 record, one game ahead of Pleasant Grove. On May 9, the Bruins won a 1-0 thriller at St. Francis on the last day of league play.

That win ended St. Francis' playoff hopes and allowed defending section champion Sheldon to back into the postseason as the league's No. 3 seed. Pleasant Grove beat Sheldon 4-2 on a two-out, walk-off grand slam by freshman Kaylen Minnatee the same day.

Ponderosa put Sheldon in a pickle by twice beating the Huskies and Arizona State-bound ace Alexis Cooper. It was after their 16-hit, 9-0 win over Sheldon on April 18 that the Bruins realized they might do better than just make the playoffs.

Opposing coaches, including Sheldon's Mary Jo Truesdale and Bear River's Duane Zauner, came away impressed with Ponderosa's aggressiveness at the plate. But while the Bruins led the Delta River League in hitting with a .334 average, they also were No. 1 in fielding percentage and ERA.

Brekke started with a three-pitcher rotation before junior Paris Hallums (10-1, 0.91 ERA) won too many big games to be denied the ace role.

"Whenever she gets in a tough jam, she bears down and gets tougher," Brekke said.

While several other juniors and sophomores have stepped in and played beyond their years, it's senior left fielder Natalie Kessing and senior catcher Skye Jerpbak who provide talent, mettle and leadership.

The left-handed-hitting Kessing, who sprays the ball to all fields, is batting .493. Jerpbak is averaging .407 at the plate while calling almost all the pitches behind it.

Jerpbak has a 4.46 grade-point average and will play next season in the Ivy League.

"She's extremely bright," Brekke said. "She picked Princeton over MIT."

Ponderosa's league championship was the fifth in school history and first in D-I.

Now, the Bruins will try their postseason luck in D-I for the first time.

Ponderosa's only section title came in 1980, the inaugural season of D-II. The Bruins were D-II runners-up in 2002 and 2007.

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