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Advantage: North

SACRAMENTO -- Bobby Dallas felt he had no choice.

With a first round playoff game against Napa today at 10 a.m., the Buhach Colony softball coach decided he would travel to Sacramento Friday night and have his team stay in a motel.

The other option was to wake up this morning at 4:30 a.m., load the girls into vans and make the two-hour drive.

Dallas felt option No. 1 at least gave his team a fighting chance.

"It left us with our hands tied," Dallas said. "Even if we played a noon game, I probably would have opted to spend the night.

"Driving up, crowded in vans for a couple of hours -- our kids just aren't used to it."

Teams from this area have complained continuously about having to make the long drive to Sacramento every year for playoff games at the Sacramento Softball Complex.

Buhach Colony (19-8) will open against Napa (23-4) at 10 a.m.

Atwater (17-9-1) plays Elk Grove Franklin (22-3) at noon.

In Division VI action, Le Grand (20-7) continues its quest for a second straight section title.

The defending champs face Lindhurst (15-8-1) in the semifinals at 10 a.m. at Stockton's Arnaiz Stadium.

The winner plays the Denair-Capital Christian winner in the title game at 1 p.m.

The Division I location is a definite advantage for Sacramento area schools.

"Saturday is not as bad," Dallas said. "But if you get past Saturday, you can end up playing games at 5 and 7 p.m on Tuesday.

"That means you get home at midnight. The girls have to get up, go to school and you're back in a van at 1:30 p.m.

"The Sacramento schools can just go to the park after school."

No team south of Stockton has won the Division I title since Modesto Grace Davis did the trick in 1994.

Even without the long drive, both BC and Atwater would be facing tough first-round opponents.

Atwater draws a Franklin team that has won 11 games in a row and features five players hitting over .400.

Franklin ace Brittany Vacura is 16-3 with a 0.85 ERA.

Catcher Alex Barenchi is Atwater's only hitter hitting above .400. The senior is batting .426 with 4 homers and 24 RBIs.

As the Central California Conference champions, Buhach Colony's road isn't any easier with Napa.

Dallas' girls face a team that has given up more than two runs in only three games all season.

"We definitely didn't catch any breaks," Dallas said. "They finished second in a tough league.

"We're going to have to swing the bats and score some runs."

The first round is single elimination. Then the eight first-round winners advance to the double-elimination part of the tournament, which starts at 2 p.m. today.

The do-or-die first game creates a nervous atmosphere this morning.

"It's a different scenario for us," Dallas said. "We haven't been put in that situation all year."

Shawn Jansen is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at 385-2462 or via e-mail at sjansen@mercedsun-star.com.

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