Johansen softball faces Napa today in playoffs

It's been 16 years since the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I softball champion played its ball south of Elk Grove. That was also the last time a Modesto team made the final.

Winning a title remains an unrealistic dream for most of the city's schools, but Johansen has separated itself from that group this past week.

"We've got girls who made a commitment to softball, not just during the season but in the summer with travel ball," coach Debbie Guenther said. "Elk Grove schools have lineups where every girl is playing travel ball, some playing at the very highest level."

When the Sacramento Lady Magic won its AAU national title two years ago, it's three-deep pitching staff came from three Elk Grove high schools. Also on that team was Johansen's Sadie Coenen, and it's no coincidence she has emerged as the city's premier player.

Coenen has already put the Vikings among the section's best, they're 3-1 in the tournament and one of four teams alive, and tonight she hopes to take them to the next level.

Johansen (26-5) faces Napa (22-8) today at 5 at the Sacramento Softball Complex. A victory puts it in the 7 o'clock losers' bracket final vs. one of the state's premier programs.

Johansen would face Pleasant Grove or Elk Grove, who are ranked Nos. 6 and 7 in California and play in the winners' bracket final today at 5.

"A month ago I thought we'd definitely make the playoffs. A week ago my best-case scenario was to make it past Saturday," said Guenther, knowing that would require the school's first playoff win.

There have been some crucial elements to their success:

A lineup that has 16 runs in the three wins. Tuesday's four-run walk-off rally beat Sheldon of Elk Grove 4-3, and cleanup hitter Chelsea Guenther's walk got it going. "The bottom of our lineup followed her up and got us that win," said coach Guenther, whose daughter is also the catcher.

Speed to swipe 92 bases in 107 tries, an 86 percent rate, through their first 31 games.

An infield, featuring San Jose State-bound Coenen at first and Theresa Martin at short, that is called the best a city school has ever sent out.

The key, as with every winning team, is pitching. Sophomore Lizzie Perez has thrown every inning in the playoffs, relying on speed and movement to keep batters uneasy.

"It used to be that everyone down here wanted to throw it as fast as possible," the younger Guenther said. "Elk Grove pitchers were working on control, keeping the ball moving.

"Jimmy Dyson, a popular pitching coach down here, realizes that. He emphasizes spins and changing up speeds. After the drop, the changeup is the next pitch he teaches."

Perez has taken it to heart. Able to overpower foes in the MMC with her fastball, she's realized a steady diet of heat will be disastrous at this level.

"Other than (velocity), Lizzie is right there with the other girls we're facing. If Lizzie misses, it's not by much," the younger Guenther said. "The good thing is that if she misses a pitch like her rise, she's missing it in the right spot.

"Her rise might come in too high, but that's better than going too low. A batter would rip a low one. She is throwing as well as she has all season."


Johansen's All-Star Lineup

Johansen breaks ground with each playoff win, after going 0-2 in two earlier trips. Johansen is 3-1 in the tourney with this lineup (comments by coach Debbie Guenther):

2B GABBY MAURICE: .387 hitter, 32 runs, 21 of 22 on stolen-base attempts. "She's great at getting herself in scoring position. She has so much speed."

1B SADIE COENEN: Tops teams with .518 average, 41 runs, 27 RBIs, 8 doubles, 8 triples, 4 homers and 15 walks. Also 35 of 37 on stolen bases. "She's our power hitter. You don't often see that hitting in the No. 2 spot. She also creates extra-base hits with her speed."

SS THERESA MARTIN: .314 hitter has 23 RBIs, six doubles. "She is a good contact hitter who is also a quality bunter. She has to be good at both to be No. 3."

C CHELSEA GUENTHER: .418 hitter has 27 RBIs and 20 runs. "Good eye, not afraid to take a walk. She's a base hitter, going with the pitch if it's outside. Also is a good bunter."

DH ASHLEY WOHLER: .279 hitter has 12 RBIs and 18 runs, a surprisingly high run total for a No. 5 hitter. "She's a good one in this spot because she can muscle up for power, or stay level and be a contact hitter."

3B JAZMINE PEDROTTI: .266 hitter has 12 RBIs, 15 runs. "She has the ability to grow into a real power hitter. She likes to pull the ball, that's where her power is right now, but we're working on getting her to hit the ball to all of the fields."

CF DANIELLE PETERSON: .243 hitter has 11 runs, 12 RBIs. "Has a level swing and it leads to a lot of line drives. She moves the ball between fields and uses her speed on the bases."

LF ASHLEIGH ROBINSON: Often gives way to pinch-hitter Melissa Sandoval, but she's been error-free in the field. "If it's a situation where we have to get the ball out of the infield, Missy comes off the bench."

RF SYDNEY VASQUEZ: Petite freshman developing into future leadoff hitter. "You'd assume she's a slap hitter, but she hits with power. This is her first year in the outfield, so she's learning on the job."