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One hit after another for Wolverine

By: Cecil Conley, Sports Editor
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Taking one for the team can often have painful consequences. Jeff Stephens speaks from experience. Stephens started for Sierra College’s baseball team last Thursday, but the sophomore did not finish the 9-5 loss to American River. He was hit by a pitch in the third inning and left in the seventh. A dark bruise on his upper left arm is his memento of a day the center fielder would much rather forget. The Wolverines lost to a team they had beaten 12-1 just two days earlier. Sierra has lost four of its past five Big 8 Conference games after winning six of seven. Momentum can be unfaithful. “The Big 8 is mentally draining. Every team is solid,” Stephens said. “The 12-1 win should not have affected how we played Thursday, but we had a lackluster effort. We have to get back on track.” Coach Rob Willson’s words echoed in Stephens’ brain as Thursday’s game got away from the Wolverines. “He always says, ‘Yesterday has nothing to do with today and today has nothing to do with tomorrow,” Stephens said. “When we’re at our best and we’re clicking, I don’t think anyone can beat us.” Stephens does not have many tomorrows remaining with the Wolverines (9-7 Big 8, 16-15 overall). He is one of five sophomores who have been mainstays in the lineup this season and fills the leadoff spot in the batting order. His job as the leadoff hitter is to get on the base, and Stephens has been doing that on a regular basis. He is the conference’s top hitter with a .372 average and is batting .391 in Big 8 games. With 48 hits, Stephens is nine ahead of Santa Rosa’s Jayce Ray for the Big 8 lead and is tied for eighth in the state. Ray has drawn 18 walks, while Stephens has accepted just five free passes. Stephens could be batting .400 overall if he would take a few more walks, but he prefers to swing the bat. “Hitting .400, everybody wants to do it,” he said. “I don’t care if I go 0-for-4 or 4-for-4 as long as we win.” Producing power is also not a concern for Stephens, who has hit just one home run in 125 at-bats. His lone homer was a solo shot March 30 in the Wolverines’ 8-3 victory over American River. The 5-foot-9, 170-pound Stephens was as surprised as anyone when the ball cleared the outfield fence. “I haven’t gotten used to the feeling,” he joked. “I thought it would be a double. I was kind of shocked.” His productivity at the plate has led to Stephens being recruited by UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara, USC and Virginia Tech. He is in no hurry to make a decision about his future for the time being. Stephens already has enough on his mind. Sierra has four Big 8 games remaining and then the state playoffs. He may not hit many homers, but he is determined to go out with a bang.