East Union pitcher Hayley Leonard faces Beyer’s Naveah Freitas during first inning of the Lancers’ 8-2 victory Monday in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section D-3 Tournament.

Slow start negated: Leonard pitches East Union softball past Beyer to open D-3

Ron Agostini

MANTECA – Hayley Leonard has taken to heart the advice her father gave her years ago. “My dad always said I should finish stronger than I start,” she said.

Leonard, following good family advice, struggled early but dominated as the shadows lengthened Monday evening at Northgate Park. The result was East Union’s 8-2 victory over Beyer to open the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III Tournament.

The No. 6-seeded Lancers (16-9), like their steady senior in the circle, gradually gathered steam on offense. Their reward is a daunting assignment Wednesday at Merced against No. 3 seed Golden Valley and Cougars star Marissa Bertuccio.

Golden Valley blanked Sierra, the 2017 and '18 Division IV champion finding life much harder post-Lindsey Walljasper, 11-0 Monday.

Beyer's Naveah Freitas opened the game with a single off Leonard’s glove, the first of four hits by Freitas. Minutes later, the Patriots plated a run and had runners in scoring position before an out was posted.

Leonard (14-3) responded with two strikeouts and a groundout, and an early crisis was averted. She eventually went the distance, negating seven base hits with seven strikeouts. The game mirrored her season – slow start followed by a finish that made her the Valley Oak League Pitcher of the Year. Leonard will continue her career at Cardinal Stritch University (NAIA) in Milwaukee.

“I was very thankful to Hayley Leonard. She has been an answer for us,” East Union coach Brian Goulart said. “She just spins it enough to keep batters off balance. She rallied this season.”

East Union, the VOL runner-up behind Lexie Webb and the Oakdale Mustangs, scored six of its eight runs against Beyer after two were out. Three of them came in the first, thanks to an RBI single by Mackenzie Salgado and Shelby Cefalu’s two-run homer.

Cefalu, a senior, put the Lancers ahead to stay with a no-doubt shot, her sixth of the season, far over the barrier in left-center.

“I got all of it,” she said.

The Lancers touched Beyer sophomore lefty Paige Fisher (13-4) for 11 hits, five of them for extra bases. Fisher struck out six – not shocking for a pitcher who fanned 148 while pacing the Patriots to a second-place finish behind Ceres in the Western Athletic Conference.

“From where we started, we had a good season,” Beyer coach Mike Young said. “Paige made a huge jump from a freshman to a sophomore.”

Beyer (13-8) stayed close until East Union’s three runs in the fifth. Bella Anchundo, the Lancers’ No. 9 hitter, doubled home two to cap her three-RBI day.

Seven of East Union’s nine losses have come against eventual league champions. One of them was to Golden Valley and Bertuccio in March, 6-0.

“She’s legit,” Goulart said. “We have a day to put together a plan against her.”

Elsewhere in D-3, top-seeded Oakdale eliminated Pioneer 7-1, Wood edged Ceres 13-12 and Patterson defeated Kimball 5-3.

Sac-Joaquin Section D-3 Tournament

First Round

East Union 8, Beyer 2

Beyer            110 000 0 – 2 7 1

East Union   311 030 x – 8 11 2

Paige Fisher and Naveah Freitas. Hayley Leonard and Cali Blevins. Beyer – Freitas 4-for-4, RBI 1b; Gianna Miler RBI 1b. East Union –Shelby Cefalu 2-for-3, 2-run HR; Bella Anchundo 2-run 2b, 3 RBIs; Mackenzie Salgado 2-for-4; Dani Godoy 2-for-3, 2b; Danielle Ramos 2-for-2, 2b; Chloe Agueda 2b.

Records – Beyer 13-8, East Union 16-9.