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Ceres High's and Central Valley's varsity softball teams faced off on Tuesday, April 15 in a highly-anticipated Valley Oak League showdown.

With bragging rights on the line, the visiting Bulldogs set the tone early and never looked back as they posted a 9-4 victory over the Hawks in the swirling wind.

"We didn't take them lightly," Ceres High junior pitcher Vaneza Hoover said. "They wanted to beat us bad."

"That's not last year's team," Bulldogs head coach Donnie Donaldson said while discussing Central Valley's improvement since its inaugural 2007 season. "They didn't hand it to us. They have players that can hit the ball."

The Bulldogs defeated Weston Ranch 8-0 on Thursday in Stockton to remain in a three-way tie for second place with Manteca and Sierra in the VOL standings at 6-2.

"Right now, we're in good position," Donaldson said. "If the season ended today, our team would be in the playoffs."

Ceres High dashed Central Valley's hopes of staging an upset by pushing one run across the plate in the top of the first inning and four more in the third en route to building a 5-0 lead.

The chatter of players spilled from the Bulldogs' dugout as the game wore on. Smiles were abound.

"Whenever we get a lead, it relieves so much stress off of me," Hoover said. "I can actually relax out there."

Leadoff batter Mika Johnson accounted for the Bulldogs' first run when she scored on a passed ball.

Freshman Ryan Norton belted a two-run homer to center field in the third inning. Cassie Rayford added a two-strike triple to right, scoring Hoover and Jode Johnson.

"That's the farthest hit Ryan's had in her whole life," Donaldson said.

Ceres High extended its lead to 9-1 with a three-run outburst in the top of the sixth inning. Freshman Taiylor Sakurada led off the inning with an infield single and moved to second on Mika Johnson's hit. They scored on Chelsea Lomeli's double to right-center field. Lomeli advanced to third on a passed ball and came home on a wild pitch.

Hillary Haley had an RBI single in the fifth inning for the Bulldogs.

Central Valley scored once in the fifth and sixth, and twice in the seventh.

Kiana Lallana walked with two out in the bottom of the fifth inning. Courtesy runner Magali Reyes moved to second on a wild pitch and advanced on a fielder's choice. Reyes scored on the play after almost getting caught in a rundown. Haley, Ceres High's catcher, threw the ball into left field while giving chase.

In the sixth inning, freshman Jessica Berndt reached base when she singled up the middle and headed to second when Jazmin Castillo got hit by a pitch. Berndt and Castillo advanced on Melissa Gonzales' groundout to first. Jessica came home on a wild pitch.

Berndt's two-out bloop single to center plated Kassandra Yori and Jayme Sprague in the seventh.

Hoover and Ceres High lost focus after taking control early.

"We got too excited and in the last few innings we made some bonehead errors that should have been outs," she said. "We should have beat them by a lot more."

"We would have been in a lot of trouble if it was closer," Donaldson said.

"It's definitely not the performance we wanted," Hawks coach Veronica Giddens said. "It's disappointing. We needed to put the ball in play so they could make more mistakes but we didn't."

"We just need to be more consistent with our hitting," said Berndt, who led Central Valley with three singles, one run scored and two RBIs.

The Hawks were also hurt by their pitching staff's lack of control. Alisha Diaz and Vicki Ochoa combined to walk nine batters and hit another.

"It's something we've been struggling with all year," Giddens said.

Diaz, Central Valley's starting pitcher, lasted just two innings. The right-handed senior yielded four runs and two hits. She walked five and struck out three.

Ochoa logged five innings of relief for the Hawks. The freshman surrendered five runs and five hits with four walks, two strikeouts and one hit batsman.

Hoover retired the first eight batters she faced, including three by strikeout, four by groundout and one by lineout. She totaled 11 strikeouts, three walks and two hit batsmen over seven innings. Vaneza gave up four runs-three earned-and four hits.

Ceres High topped Central Valley twice last season, winning by a combined 22 runs. The Bulldogs will try to beat the Hawks for the fourth straight time on May 8.

"Sooner or later the streak is going to end," Donaldson said. "But it shouldn't this year."