Benicia softball always had the talent for an SJS title. It just needed a point in the right direction.
By JIM McCUE | Senior Contributor
No one on the Benicia softball team was positive that the Panthers would win the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II championship, especially after Del Campo-Fair Oaks forced a winner-take-all title game with a 6-2 victory on May 21.
But positivity carried Benicia (21-5) to a 4-2 win in the second of two games against Del Campo to earn the program its first SJS title.
“Positivity was a big thing for us this year,” said Chanler Powell, one of three seniors on the Panthers’ roster. “We always felt like if we had more positivity last year, we could have taken it further. Our positive attitude gave us that extra push this time.”
In 2013, Benicia rolled to a perfect 15-0 record in Solano County League play to enter the section playoffs as a contender filled with confidence. But, on the eve of the postseason, coach Kristin Grubbs was dismissed, creating a chaotic atmosphere that the Panthers could not overcome. Under the direction of interim coach Bruce Zimmer, Benicia opened with two wins before bowing out with a pair of losses to fall short of a title shot.
As the 2014 season approached, the coaching situation was not resolved until late January when Benicia alum and former softball standout Jeana Gevas finally got her paperwork completed to be hired as the Panthers’ coach. Gevas hit the ground running and immediately started to build her championship roster from the head down.
“Coming in late, I did not have time to break down players, so I was working on the team model and working to just bring this club together,” Gevas said. “It started with introducing them to the model and letting them understand what it is like to have the positive thoughts within themselves to apply to the larger model.”
Gevas’ message of positivity and mental strength resonated with the girls, who felt that they had unfinished business to take care of. In addition to instilling confidence and positivity into the program, the coach asked her players to create a team motto and set a team goal.
The Panthers set their sights on chasing the elusive SJS championship (Benicia won the North Coast Section title in 2000 when Gevas was a freshman on the team) and agreed on the plan to achieve that goal. And the motto? “Bust Ours to Beat Yours.”
“I am somebody who dreams big, so their goal to win section was what we all agreed on,” Gevas said. “That goal set the linear path that we needed to follow.
“If everyone is on that linear path doing the same things within themselves, it creates cohesion and a positive energy.”
The Panthers’ early schedule featured top programs from the Bay Area and Sacramento with the hopes of preparing for the postseason grind. Benicia then rolled through league play with a perfect 13-0 mark before putting their positivity to the ultimate test at the Sacramento Softball Complex.
The Panthers defeated Bella Vista-Fair Oaks 3-2 in their playoff opener before rallying from a 5-0 deficit to beat defending Div. II champion Casa Roble-Orangevale 7-6 to advance to the winner’s bracket final. A 4-1 win over Del Campo moved Benicia to the championship where the Panthers would need to win just one of two games to win the title.
In the first game on the final night of the playoffs, Del Campo jumped out to an early lead and ran away from Benicia for a 6-2 win. But, when Del Campo won the coin toss between games and elected to be the home team, the Panthers pounced on the opportunity to strike first. A pair of first-inning runs gave Benicia a lead it would never relinquish.
Kranz was solid inside the circle, allowing just five hits and two unearned runs in the finale, while the entire lineup contributed to the offense that woke up from its first-game slump. Underclassmen Shelby Thompson, McKenna Gregory, Brianna Schlattman, Allie Bullock and Alana Combes backed up the efforts of the senior trio to maintain momentum.
Del Campo mounted rallies late in the game, but Kranz came up with big outs time and again to keep the Cougars at bay. That included a huge strikeout with the bases loaded in the bottom of the fifth inning. The senior pitcher, who was roughed up for five runs in five innings in the first game, completed an impressive bounce back performance with her seventh and final strikeout to end the game and send the Panthers onto the field for a victory celebration.
“That was the best feeling ever,” Kranz said of the game-ending strikeout to capture the section title. “I just feel honored knowing that we got the first (SJS banner) to hang on the wall, and that I was a part of the team to do that.
“It really tops off my senior year.”
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