Putting together a championship softball team isn't as easy as possessing a pitching ace, but having an overpowering hurler is a starting point.
While defense and hitting have improved the last few years, success and failure continue to ride on the pitching.
Shutouts are the rule, not the exception, in Sac-Joaquin Section finals: In the top five divisions a year ago, four titles were decided by shutout.
The top teams in the Stanislaus District — Davis, Ceres, Oakdale, East Union and Escalon, to name a few — boast at least one quality pitcher.
Even with the graduation of EU's Erin Arevalo, the state's two-time strikeout queen, the district has plenty of arms.
Desi Maldonado has Davis in line for the Modesto Metro Conference crown; Oakdale's Breanna Parker and Ceres' Vaneza Hoover could slug it out in the Valley Oak League; and the Western Athletic Conference features a couple aces in Hilmar's Jessica Paine and Patterson's Mandy Sifuentes.
It's no surprise those teams are prominent in The Bee's Stanislaus District rankings.
Davis is at No. 1 and is joined by three VOL teams — No. 2 Ceres, No. 4 Oakdale and No. 5 East Union. Buhach Colony of the Central California Conference is No. 3.
The top of the small-school rankings has a new resident, with Escalon at No. 1 — a position held exclusively by Orestimba the last two years.The Warriors, who won Division V titles the last two years, lost a lot to graduation.
Hilmar has graduated last year's ace, but Paine's emergence puts the Yellowjackets at No. 2. Patterson is No. 3, followed by No. 4 Hughson and No. 5 Modesto Christian — Escalon's rivals in the TVL.