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Young Lady Bruins Determined To See Softball Playoffs
With savvy outfielder Cassandra Gilbert designated to the pine for the remainder of Riverbank High's varsity softball season via a midseason surgery, the Bruins now sport an all-freshman outfield with four total ninth grade starters.

But don't let Riverbank's youth fool you.

The Lady Bruins shocked the Trans-Valley League with a 5-2 upset of previously unbeaten Modesto Christian this past week, and finished third in the competitive Jim Elliott tournament after an impressive 3-1 edging of Valley Christian.

Riverbank is 4-1 in their last five games, and sits in prime position to contend for one of three seeds from the TVL into the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V playoffs.

"I am really proud of our girls," Riverbank softball coach Cassi Ross said. "We have had some ups and downs, but the team has come together and is playing great."

The Bruins (4-3 TVL) are tied with Hughson for third in the league playoff race. Escalon and Modesto Christian (both 6-1) sit atop the league standings with eight games to go. TVL teams face each other three times during the regular season.

Riverbank is in the hunt thanks to a deep cast of underclassmen who have made a quick transition from high competition travel softball to high school action in a tough small school league.

It's a completely different style of play, but Ross said her players with prior prep experience play a huge role in the mentoring of her youngest competitors.

"They all have softball experience, but we have had to teach them a whole new style with completely different strategies," Ross said. "All of the older girls on our team have been very good leaders. Even Cassandra, who is out for the season, has been a huge vocal leader and instructs our outfield from the bench."

Tuesday's win over Modesto Christian came after a 2-0 first-inning deficit that swung the Bruins' way in a three-run fifth inning. Carlye Avey cleared the outfield fence with a home run and went 3-for-4 in the victory, adding 12 strikeouts from the mound. Victoria Sandoval was also 2-for-4 with an RBI double as the Bruins out-hit the Crusaders, 8-3.

Two days later, Riverbank broke away from a 1-1 deadlock in the fifth with six runs in the final two innings to oust Ripon Christian, 7-1.

The win set up Riverbank's entry in the Jim Elliott Tournament, where the Bruins opened things with a 2-0 defeat of Millennium. A 5-1 loss to Consumnes Oaks set up the Bruins for a third place game against Valley Christian on Saturday. Avey's shutdown persona was best on display in that tourney finale, where she ended two innings after only four pitches, struck out eight and surrendered only one hit.

"She was just on in that game," Ross said. "She went through hitters so fast we played seven innings in less than an hour."

Avey, Amanda Lopez and Aimee Lopez each hit 2-for-2 against Valley Christian while Brandi Higle was 1-for-2. The Bruins were 1-for-2 on squeeze attempts as well.

"It's non-league, so we tried a couple squeezes and worked on some things we will need later in the season," Ross said. "It was a good tournament for us."

Riverbank was scheduled to play at Escalon on Tuesday, though results were not available at press time. They will travel to Ripon on Thursday and take on Hughson in a big TVL contest on Wednesday, April 28.