Whitney hands Lincoln early playoff exit

Discovering Division II
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There were plenty of tears following the Lincoln High loss to Whitney in round one of the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division II Playoffs Monday. However, most were the result of having to say goodbye to the Fighting Zebras’ seniors.

Seven seniors played their final game for Lincoln, closing out as the Pioneer Valley League champions. Next season the Zebras will play in the Division III Foothill Valley League and likely will have to again compete at Division II in the playoffs.

Against Whitney, the visitors took advantage of a couple walks and scored three runs in the top of the first.

In the bottom of the inning, Deja Ross reached third base. The senior tried to take home on a sacrifice, but collided with Whitney’s catcher who held onto the ball for the third out.

The Wildcats added another run in the fourth, but Lincoln came back with three runs in the bottom of the frame to close within one, 4-3. But the top of the fifth proved the Zebras’ undoing.

Whitney scored 10 runs, taking advantage of a small strike zone that led to walks, two-strike hits, errors and an eventual three-run triple. Lincoln could not answer in the top of the fifth and the ‘Cats advanced to round two 14-3.

“These are two good teams, but you can’t make that strike zone small,” said Lincoln head coach Donna Tofft. “Some of those errors are because of walks.”

Tofft said she had hoped the Zebras would be put into Division III, because of how tough it is playing in Division II. Whereas Lincoln came in as PVL champs, Whitney came in just under the wire. The Wildcats placed fourth in the Capital Valley Conference to earn the last automatic bid with a 6-7-1 league record.

“They had to compete hard every game to win and we didn’t have to,” said Tofft. “Division II, if you look at all those teams, they’re battle tested.

“We’re going to have to do that next year in the schedule. We have to play hard teams every game.”

Wildcats head coach Mike Mello echoed Tofft’s comment. He said he purposely scheduled the toughest teams he could find in order to compete in the CVC.

In contrast, Whitney’s strength of schedule was 13.0; Lincoln’s was 4.9.

Still, Tofft was pleased with the way her team fought and went out as league champions.

“I’m proud of them. We got two numbers out there; it’s hard to get that third one,” Tofft said, referring to a section title. “But we’ve got to keep going.”