There's no better example of how Calaveras juniors Megan Walters and Jennifer Scantlen helped lead the Redskins to a Mother Lode League title this past season than a 1-0 victory over Linden onMarch 28.
After falling to the Lions 7-1 two days earlier at home, Walters, the Redskins' ace hurler, was perfect through six innings and the game was scoreless heading into the seventh.
Scantlen, a third baseman, stepped up to the plate in the top of that final inning and blasted a ball thrown by one of the MLL's top hurlers, Lauren Watanabe, over the fence for a solo homer that gave Calaveras the lead.
In the bottom of the seventh inning, Walters didn't get the perfect game but preserved the no-hitter and, more importantly, the big win.
"That game against Linden was really the biggest of the season for both Megan and Jennifer," said Calaveras head coach Mike Koepp.
Their heroics that day were made that much more important after the Redskins lost the third and final game of their season series with the Lions but finished one game ahead at 12-3 in the MLL to claim the league championship.
However, the big seasons that both players had didn't come without plenty of hard work.
Scantlen practiced with coaches during the offseason to improve her hitting and it clearly showed in those big moments. She hit a boisterous .481 in 2013, improving from .265 in her sophomore season. Also this year, she smacked 39 hits, two homers, in 26 games, while driving in 25 runs and scoring 17 times.
"I've been working on my hitting because I was struggling but it all came together this season," Scantlen said. "The hits were like rally starters and Megan would keep our momentum going whenever she was on the mound."
Walters was, simply put, a force to be reckoned with in the MLL. She finished with a 16-8 overall record, a 1.36 ERA and a stingy .160 opponent average in 134 innings pitched. She also recorded 130 total strikeouts and was named league MVP.
"I've been working really hard and going to pitching lessons multiple days a week," Walters said of her hard work off the field. "This year, I noticed that I was getting more spin on the ball and throwing it a little bit harder and it can be tough for batters to hit that."
For their outstanding play, dedication to improvement and leading the Redskins to the MLL title and first round of the Division V Sac-Joaquin Championships, both Megan Walters and Jennifer Scantlen have earned their distinction as the Union Democrat's 2013 All-Area Softball Co-Most Valuable Players.
"That means a lot to me because it comes from both counties (Tuolumne and Calaveras)," Walters said directly after being informed of her selection. "I'm so glad that Jennifer and I were chosen."
"It's an honor," Scantlen said. "To be recognized like that says a lot about the work me and Megan have put in."
Walters and Scantlen both possess distinct attributes that make them great at the positions they play, according to Koepp.
"Megan was a game changer in the circle for us," Koepp said. "She dominated a lot of games and is kind of an intimidating presence out there. We've worked a lot with her on being a complete pitcher and she's gotten better. The teams we did well against was because Megan threw well.
"Jennifer's a hard worker and saw a lot of improvement this season because she's a student of the game who doesn't just go through the motions. That's the key. She listens, she's coachable and she understands what she needs to do to get better - and then does it."
Walters and Scantlen have been a dynamic duo on the diamond since long before high school. They have been friends for more than a decade and playing softball together since they were 10.
"We've watched each other grow and helped each other improve," Scantlen said of being longtime friends as well as teammates. "It's like watching your sister accomplish stuff. It's a good feeling."
With the Redskins lacking any seniors on the roster this past season, Koepp will be looking for both Scantlen and Walters to step into leadership roles next year. Both said they were eager for the challenge.
"Megan and I want to kind of step up and be the leaders on our team," Scantlen said. "We want to help lead our team when we're down and have some of the younger girls look up to us."
The powerful one-two punch of Walters and Scantlen may have put the MLL champs over the top this year, but the Redskins were a team loaded with young talent.
Other Redskins earning spots on the All-Area First Team were sophomore shortstop Marissa Hukkanen and junior second baseman Grace Carr, whom Koepp described as two of the "hardest working people in our program."
"They were really unselfish, too, because they are both truly outfielders by trade," Koepp explained. "But Marissa played shortstop and Grace played second base because that's where we needed them. It was really unselfish for them to know what's best for the team and do it, even if it's unlikely that those are the positions they will play after leaving high school."
Carr hit .406 and Hukkanen an even .400. Carr had 39 total hits, 20 RBIs and 21 runs scored, while Hukkanen had 36 hits, 16 RBIs and 28 runs.
In other words, productive.
Bret Harte had two senior Bullfrogs named to the All-Area First Team: Cassidy Davis and Bekka Gross.
Davis, a third baseman, had to work harder than most coming into the first game of the season after suffering an ACL injury over the summer that forced her to sit out during the basketball season in order to fully recover for softball, according to Bret Harte head coach Jacey Bray.
Bray said Davis "struggled a bit at the beginning of the season" but later hit her stride to finish with a .393 batting average. Bray also said that Davis displayed versatility on defense.
"She played most of the season at third base for us but also played some shortstop and a game or two at second base," Bray said. "She's a versatile infielder who is always looking out for what's best for the team."
Bray also praised Gross, whom she described as "a stud, an all-around player and a natural leader."
"You name it, she's good at it," Bray said of the senior Bullfrog catcher. "As a natural leader and being a catcher, she's able to manage the field and relieve some stress off the pitcher."
Gross also finished the season with a .393 batting average. She played 19 games and had 24 hits, including 16 RBIs with 19 runs scored.
"Whenever Bekka was up to bat we knew we had to make sure we were on our A-game," Scantlen said. "Or when we were on the bases, we had to make sure we were close to the bases or she would pick us off."
Across the river, Summerville was led by a strong contingent of seniors three who are on the All-Area First Team - pitcher Taylor Ebner, catcher Taylor Leslie and shortstop Ashley Gamber.
The trio helped the Bears hand Linden a 7-5 loss in the final game of the season that prevented the Lions from grabbing a share of the league title and the top playoff seed from the MLL, which went to Calaveras.
"All three of them spent four years in the softball program at Summerville and have been mainstays all the way through," said Summerville head coach Ben Watson. "They've been our main core group and we're going to miss them a lot."
Ebner has thrown nearly every pitch for the Bears since joining the varsity squad as a sophomore, in addition to her participation in summer travel leagues that can have her pitching sometimes in up to six games in two days.
She plans to play for Sierra College in Rocklin with longtime friend and teammate Leslie. Ebner has also been friends with Gamber for a number of years and said sharing the honor of making the All-Area First Team with both is "really awesome."
"They are both very talented in different ways," Ebner said. "Leslie is probably one of the hardest workers I've ever seen in my entire life. She comes before practice, stays after practice and dedicates so much time to being a better player.
"There's never a moment you don't doubt Ashley is giving 100 percent all of the time. She's very, very competitive, and that's awesome because there's been a bunch of games where I've been down and she's picked me back up."
Sonora had a tough year in the ultra-stacked Valley Oak League, but had a pair of senior Wildcats named All-Area, Alana Gookin and Cassidy Knowles.
Watson said their effort and determination impressed him in a 15-0 early-season loss to the Bears.
"I really thought they brought a good, positive attitude to the game while also playing to win," he said. "I know they struggled in the win-loss column, but at least against us I thought they showed up ready to play and were very competitive."
Bret Harte, Senior
Bret Harte, Senior