STOCKTON - Two undefeated softball teams perched atop the San Joaquin Athletic Association met for the first time this season Thursday at Bear Creek High. Six combined hits and two solid pitching performances later, the Bruins handed Franklin its first league loss.
Bear Creek beat Franklin 4-1, scoring all four runs in the second inning to back a 10-strikeout performance by starter Mia Zapata. The sophomore allowed two hits and three walks and an unearned run to lead the Bruins (8-2, 7-0 SJAA).
In the circle for Franklin (7-4, 5-1 SJAA) was senior Jenna Nauta, who scattered four hits while allowing four unearned runs and striking out four.
On a quiet offensive day for both teams, pitching was certainly paramount. Zapata struck out two in the top of the first, and Nauta matched it in the bottom of the inning.
Bear Creek’s half of the second was the difference in the game, and it started with a single up the middle by Ashley Laughlin. Tristyn Guevara walked, and a wild pitch moved both runners up. Camryn Pinzon reached on an infield single to load the bases, and Jamie Wallis hit a two-run single to give the Bruins a 2-0 lead.
Only, she didn’t. Bear Creek had batted out of order, costing the Bruins an out and a pair of runs, at least for a moment. Two errors and an RBI single from Madden Yerena netted Bear Creek a 4-0 lead, blunder aside.
It was all Zapata needed. Bear Creek coach Kirk Klucznik said her effectiveness stemmed from being able to hit her spots, helping her keep the Yellowjackets off-balance at the plate for most of the afternoon.
Zapata had the makings of a no-hitter as late as the fourth, but that was only a byproduct of the plan, not the bulk of it.
“The game plan was to keep my team in the game,” Zapata said. “I didn’t really care about how many hits I gave up. I was just trying to keep the score down and limit the runs.”
Outside of a top of the sixth inning where Franklin’s Sydney Peterson walked, stole two bases and scored on an errant throw to third, Zapata did exactly that. From the Yellowjackets’ perspective, it’s something they’ll have to work on in preparation for the final two games between these two squads.
“With our pitching and defense, we’re going to stay in there. We just have to hit,” said Franklin coach Brian Nauta. “It’s our achilles heel. We have to keep playing, and we have to recognize pitches better. We’re going to have to out-hit them in order to get them.”
They’ll likely be up against Zapata again, who has picked up where she left off after going 15-4 with a 1.58 earned run average as a freshman. Zapata said she wants to stay the course this season; she wants to limit runs, give Bear Creek a chance to win and help the Bruins make a deep run in the playoffs.
“Our goal is to win league undefeated and go as far as we can in playoffs,” Zapata said. “We have a really strong offense, a solid defense and our pitching is great. If we can put it all together, we’ll be fine in the playoffs.”
Contact reporter Nick Woodard at (209) 546-8272 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter@nwoodard25.