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Rio Linda ends Ceres' season
After suffering a season-ending 9-3 loss to Capital Valley Conference champion Rio Linda in the opening round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV Playoffs on Wednesday at Arnaiz Stadium in Stockton, Ceres High varsity pitcher Vaneza Hoover expressed disappointment and pride in her Bulldogs.

"We just weren't on top of our game today," she said. "We fell apart when we needed to play our best. I'm still proud of our team. We did better than what most people expected. We proved everyone wrong."

Ceres High secured its 23rd straight postseason berth thanks to its second-place finish in the Valley Oak League (11-3).

"I'm extremely proud of them for that," head coach Donnie Donaldson said.

The Bulldogs couldn't have asked for a better start against the Knights as they grabbed a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning.

Leadoff batter Mika Johnson singled and scored on freshman Ryan Norton's double to center. Norton sped home when Hoover lined a pitch off Rio Linda ace Alex Newman's shin.

"I was confident," Vaneza said.

Everything went downhill after that.

The Bulldogs allowed nine runs, including eight unearned on five errors, through the first three innings.

The Knights scored five times in the first, three times in the second and once in the third to break the contest open.

"We weren't making the simple plays. And it does get frustrating," Hoover said. "I don't know what happened. I still thought we could come back because we've done it before."

"Our defense fell apart," Donaldson said. "That's something I'm really not accustomed to. We self-destructed. That's what's tough to swallow."

He offered an explanation for his team's defensive letdown. Donaldson shuffled his starting lineup before the game to make up for the loss of catcher Amanda Lampley, who was sidelined with the stomach flu.

Hillary Haley moved from third to catcher.

Second baseman Chelsea Lomeli filled in for Haley.

Injured freshman Taiylor Sakurada replaced Lomeli. Sakurda, who had two fingers taped together under her glove on her left hand, made four errors.

"It's tough when you have situations where girls are sick," Donaldson said. "You have to change your game plan a little."

Donnie also praised Rio Linda, which collected five hits with four walks and just three strikeouts against Ceres High's ace pitcher.

"They played real solid," Donaldson said. "They put the bat on the ball. They didn't make too many mistakes."

Vaneza watched part of VOL champion East Union's second game at the complex's main field before heading home.

The Bulldogs split with the Lancers during the regular season with each team winning by the slimmest margin (1-0).

"I'd like to see them take it (section title)," Hoover said. "I'm pretty cool with their whole team now."

For the second straight season, Bear River posted back-to-back wins over East Union to win the championship. The Bruins eliminated Rio Linda (28-3) along the way.

Vaneza has high expectations for the 2009 Bulldogs. "We're going to be really good," she said.