Photos by Nick Baker
By Paul Meadors, Sports Editor
To say that the Buchanan softball team is peaking at the right time would be an understatement.
After struggling to find their way a bit in the first half of the season, the Bears turned on the jets winning 10 of their last 11 games en route to a 9-1 league record and a TRAC championship behind the strong play of seniors Sienna Swain, Spenser Sansom, Faith Rousey, Starr Vang and the pitching of sophomore Molly Millar.
The Bears improved to 23-5 overall and are currently ranked No. 10 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports.
But standing in their way was an important game on May 10 against defending TRAC and Valley champion Clovis High and their sophomore star pitcher Danielle Lung, the hard-thrower who had shut them out on April 25 in a 1-0 contest. But the Bears had a sophomore of their own in Millar, and when the bell tolled she answered the call and fired a one-hitter with 10 strikeouts.
The Bears scored their lone run in the third when Katie Jackson led off by getting hit by a pitch, and after a Sansom sacrifice, Rousey hit a two-out, two-strike single to center.
And to top off the week, Millar threw a shortened 21-0 dominating performance at home against Clovis North. Swain and Rousey went an incredible 9-9 with two doubles, two triples, seven runs scored and 10 RBI between the two of them in the contest.
Head coach Dean Gregory praised the eight seniors on their team, especially the four seniors who played four years of varsity softball.
“It means a great deal to me since I have a lot of seniors on this team and four of them who have been with me for four years,” said head coach Dean Gregory. “They are the greatest kids you could ever coach. For them to win TRAC means everything. They deserve it.”
Swain, who also starred on the tennis court, agrees.
“To win TRAC means everything to us,” Swain said. “Four years of dedication and blood, sweat and tears.”
In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more deadly combination of Swain (.510 BA, 36 runs, 11 doubles) and Sansom (.442, 36 runs, 44 RBIs, 10 HR) in the Valley.
So, when did this team, who last won a Valley title in 2009 start putting it all together?
Gregory said the team finally clicked at the coast where they swept Atascadero in a double-header in the middle of the year and went 3-1 in the Arroyo Grande Tournament in late March.
“After we played well there we really started to click when league started,” said Gregory, head coach since 2004. “That’s when our bats really came alive and Molly has pitched really well ever since.”
Millar, who has received interest from Stanford, is currently 15-2 on the season with an ERA of 1.65 and 140 strikeouts in 117.2 innings.
The Bears were rewarded with the No. 1 seed in the D-1 Central Section playoffs, which start May 17 and end at Fresno State’s Margie Wright Diamond on May 26 for the Valley championship game.
Gregory is well aware that anything can happen in the playoffs but likes the momentum the team is carrying with them.
“I’m as cautious a coach as they come about making predictions,” Gregory said. “But I told them before the season that they were the best team in the Valley.”