Johansen's softball thrill-ride comes to end

SACRAMENTO -- The magic had to run out eventually, but not before Johansen High provided a last thrill.

The Vikings had just put together a week unlike any other in the history of Stanislaus District softball, knocking off two of California's top three teams in a mere 48 hours.

No. 3 Pleasant Grove went down Wednesday -- the Eagles opened the season No. 1 in the nation -- followed by a 6-5 win over No. 2 Elk Grove Friday evening on a towering ninth-inning home run by Missy Sandoval.

Sandoval's smash forced a winner-take-all game for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 1 title -- a game the Thundering Herd won 6-3 to become the fifth consecutive school from Elk Grove to win the championship.

Elk Grove had given up just one run while rolling over four foes on its way to the final, while the upstart Vikings had battled through the losers' bracket with four consecutive victories.

Imagine the shock when Johansen rallied from a 5-0 deficit in the first game -- against a team that had given up five runs total in its last 16 games.

Oh yeah, the potent Thundering Herd had won all 16 of those games.

"It was pretty amazing, coming back in that first game," Johansen coach Debbie Guenther said. "The girls beat every big team up here, Elk Grove, Pleasant Grove, Sheldon, Napa ... we showed that we belong up here. Now the girls know that the sky is the limit. That hard work is paying off for them."

Johansen is the first Stanislaus District school to play in the D-1 final in 16 years, and the first school not from Elk Grove to make the final since 2005.

At Johansen's core was Lizzie Perez, a sophomore pitcher who threw all 16 innings Friday. She was the most surprising thrower in a talented field of pitchers that included some of the best in the nation.

"Lizzie got stronger as she went on, and she closed well," Guenther said. "Remember, she was just 14 years old last year and stepping on a varsity field for the first time. She has done a lot of growing up.

"She doesn't get rattled by a bad pitch. Her body language stays strong. That's how you measure the great pitchers."

Of course, Elk Grove had a pretty good pitcher of its own in Shelby Wisdom. She went all 16 innings, and had a homer in each game. Her two-run shot in the third inning of the second game made it 4-0.

Johansen got to within 6-3 on Jazmine Pedrotti's run-scoring groundout, but Wisdom handled it from there.

"We had a complete effort this season, from Lizzie's pitching to our hitting and defense," said Guenther, praising assistants Corey Reid, Steve Drewery, James Davidson. Guenther also had a few words for JV coaches Jesse Rios and Clifford Mitchell.

"We have a strong program, and they're all responsible for that," she added.

In the first game, Elk Grove led 5-0 after four innings and there was no indication that the Viking were going to put up a fight, until Sandoval singled and the next two batters got on to load the bases with no outs in the fifth.

Sadie Coenen's walk forced in a run and, one out later, Chelsea Guenther's two-run single made it 5-4 and left runners on first and third. Guenther feigned a steal, drawing a throw from the catcher, and remained in a rundown long enough for Coenen to score.

Johansen tied it at 5 on Sandoval's RBI single to center.

Elk Grove had plenty of opportunities -- a leadoff double in the seventh, bases loaded in the eight and a runner on second in the ninth -- but Perez kept slamming the door on the Herd.

"When Missy hit that homer, the crowd just went crazy," Debbie Guenther said. "The center fielder kept going back on the ball and she ended up running right through the (portable) fence. She knocked the fence right over and she never did get to Missy's ball."

Related stories from Merced Sun-Star