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Ponderosa is well aware of its 30-year section title drought — and has every intent to end it.   By JIM McCUE | Senior Contributor...

Ponderosa is well aware of its 30-year section title drought — and has every intent to end it.

  By JIM McCUE | Senior Contributor

In the first year that the Sac-Joaquin Section awarded a softball championship in Division II, Ponderosa brought the title back to Shingle Springs. 

In the 30-plus years since, the Bruins have not won another and finished as runners-up three times — including last year in Division I. But the lack of hardware does not equate to a lack of confidence.

“I think that the girls expect to be in the same position this year,” third-year coach Dwayne Brekke said of falling one step short of the large school title in 2012. “We know that a team has to be hot and get a little bit of luck to win a championship, but we think we have a team that can get back to that title game.”

The Bruins won the always-tough Delta River League last year, beating out talented foes such as Pleasant Grove, St. Francis, and Sheldon. Ponderosa twice beat Sheldon in league play, but fell to a Huskies team that was on one of the most impressive offensive runs in recent playoff history. Sheldon outscored their opponents 70-6 in the last five games, including an 8-1 victory over Ponderosa.

“It was hard to take that day,” Brekke said of the loss, “but we also talked about the success we had and the potential to win the last game of the season this year.”

Entering the 2012 season, Brekke and the Bruins set a goal to qualify for the postseason. With the team’s success in the Delta River League and section runner-up finish, everyone involved with the program knew that the expectations should be raised for 2013.

“The goal last year was just to make the playoffs,” senior pitcher Paris Hallums said. “Going as far as we did definitely effected how we set our goals this year, and our goal this year is to win the whole thing.”

The Bruins lost only three seniors from last year’s 22-9 squad, but the graduated players included the league’s most valuable player and the team’s undisputed leader. Natalie Kessing led the offense with team bests in batting average (.435) and on-base percentage (.536) to earn DRL MVP honors while catcher Skye Jerpbak was the Bruins’ field general.

The pair left a void on and off the field, but Hallums believes that the team’s balanced roster of five seniors, nine juniors, and one sophomore can share the workload both on and off the field.

“We have great hitters up and down the lineup and all five pitchers can get outs with very different styles,” Hallums said. “Skye definitely left some big shoes to fill, but we have more of a shared leadership this year where different players look to different seniors to get the help they need.”

Brekke also sees team balance as a major strength for the Bruins. While Hallums is the team’s ace and main pitching workhorse, Ponderosa has exceptional depth in the circle and strong play up the middle.

Hallums, who finished 2012 with a 13-3 record to go along with a 1.96 ERA and 124 strikeouts, leads the deep staff of returning pitchers. Senior Shasta Stinson and junior MacKenzie Mueller each pitched 39 innings last year and will be counted on to give Hallums rest and/or relief when needed. Sophomore Terra Jerpbak, who pitched only 10.1 innings as a freshman, is a deceptive change-of-pace thrower that will be used to keep opponents off-balance when the situation calls for it.

The only newcomer to the pitching staff, junior Cassidy Lujan, has been the biggest surprise to Brekke. Lujan was not even on the varsity roster as a sophomore, but is expected to assume the role of dominant closer for the Bruins.

The middle infield is anchored by returning starters Rachel Timberman at shortstop and senior Melissa Silveira at second base. Timberman, who will also bat in the leadoff spot, has exceptional hands and a tireless work ethic, according to Brekke, and Silveira is a three-year varsity starter and the team’s most sure fielder.

“Last year, (Silveira) was our gold glove,” Brekke said. “If the ball is hit to her at second, I know that I don’t have to worry about it.”

Taylor Eilders, another three-year starter, completes Ponderosa’s middle defense, covering lots of ground from her center field position. The senior, who will play at Corban College in Oregon next year, uses her exceptional speed to get good jumps on any balls hit her way and to fly around the bases from her spot near the top of the batting order. Eilders had a team-high 41 hits last year while compiling a .394 batting average.

The Bruins’ top offensive threat is senior Giana Bilotta, whose combination of power and speed has the potential to break games open. The St. Mary’s College signee batted .322 with 21 runs and 24 RBI last year while swiping 11 bases in as many attempts. Bilotta was especially hot during the Bruins’ playoff run, belting three of her team-high four homers and driving in 9 RBI in the postseason. The versatile Bilotta, who normally plays third base, is temporarily filling in at catcher to start the 2013 campaign while junior Roni Greene recovers from a minor injury.

The team’s depth plays into Brekke’s philosophy of playing his full roster.

“I expect you to play if you are on the team,” Brekke said. “In the preseason, I want to understand what all of the players can do, so that I can put each one of them in the position where they can help this team most.”

The Bruins are 4-1-1 thus far and finished third in the top division of the recent Victory Tournament of Champions hosted by Elk Grove. That tourney featured playoff contenders Woodcreek, Pleasant Grove, and Elk Grove, among others, and is part of the team’s plan to face top competition before enduring the rigorous DRL schedule.

Ponderosa understands that defending its league title may be more difficult than unexpectedly winning the DRL a year ago. The Bruins know that they will be targets for every league opponent, but they also possess a greater understanding of what they are capable of doing in the DRL and the section playoffs in 2013.

“Last year, going into league, we didn’t see how good of a team we were,” Hallums said. “Until we beat Pleasant Grove, Sheldon, and St. Francis, we didn’t know how good we really were.”

“Knowing we have that potential is motivation for us to go one step further this year. We know that if we are good enough to get there, then we are good enough to win it.”

It’s just that kind of confidence that could lead to earning the hardware that the Ponderosa program has not claimed since 1980.


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