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Break for Zebras is relief for opponents

By: Cecil Conley, Sports Editor
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Spring break arrived at an inopportune time for Lincoln High School’s softball team. The Zebras have been on a roll, winning their first six Pioneer Valley League games in convincing fashion. Donna Tofft’s squad is averaging nine runs per league game and winning by an average margin of seven. The one close call was a 2-0 win over Bear River in the PVL opener April 1 in Lincoln. The Bruins will be waiting for the Zebras in Grass Valley when the league season resumes April 27. In the meantime, Tofft will be fine-tuning her players for their pursuit of a 10-0 PVL campaign. Batting practice will keep the Zebras sharp at the plate, where they have collected 10 or more hits in each of their past five PVL games. They had 15 last Friday in a 10-7 victory over Colfax. Lincoln amassed 43 hits in three victories last week. Junior outfielder Ashleigh Stidman had two hits against Colfax after going 4-for-4 with a double and two RBI in a 12-3 win over Placer on April 13. A 7-for-11 week boosted Stidman’s average to a team-high .480. The Zebras are batting .370 as a team. “We have good hitters throughout the lineup,” Tofft said. “We hit well enough to win a (Sac-Joaquin) section championship.” A section title is the Zebras’ goal after they were knocked out in the first round of the 2010 playoffs. “That’s in the back of their minds,” Tofft said. Tofft balked at the notion that an 11-day break could dissolve the momentum her team has generated. “We need a break. We’ve been going for two months, going and going,” Tofft said. “The girls need time to decompress and get away for each other. They can get a little irritated with each other.” As in any family, the players are not always going to get along with all the time they spend together. In addition to not having school Monday and Tuesday, the players did not have go to practice. Tofft trusted her players to work out on their own. Well, she told them she expected them to work out. “I just have to say it,” Tofft said. “Staying in shape is the biggest thing. I told them if they come back out of shape, they’re not only letting themselves down. They’re letting down their teammates.” The girls know better than to take it easy when there will be so much at stake in their four remaining PVL games. The Zebras have a chance to go unbeaten in the PVL for the second straight year. Eight players returned from the 2010 team, including two four-year varsity veterans. Katie Emerson and Nikoli Sharp have been playing for Tofft so long that the coach might as well as adopt them. “It’s like they’re your own kids,” Tofft said. “You go through so much with them, the ups and downs.” Tofft figures Sharp and Emerson can read her and alert their teammates when she is not in a good mood. “They can see it without me saying anything,” she said. “They know when it’s time to stop screwing around.” That is a benefit of promoting freshmen to the varsity team. The downside for Tofft comes when she has to bid farewell to those players after watching them blossom as students and athletes. Her feelings are the same for each and every one of her players. “They’re such good kids. Their parents did well,” she said. “Even the kids that don’t play a whole bunch have accepted their roles. That makes it special and fun. I wouldn’t trade them for the world.”