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Golden Valley High softball ace putting final stamp on career, leads section in strikeouts

Golden Valley High ace Bree Barner knows her high school softball career is winding down.

After four years spent dominating in the circle, the Cougars star can count on one hand the regular season games remaining. It can be sad for Barner to think about this phase of her life coming to an end, but the Stanislaus State-bound pitcher knows she’s got a college career ahead of her.

“We only have five more games,” said Barner, after a tough 2-1 loss to Patterson High on Friday. “It’s definitely bittersweet. My freshman year was like, ‘Wow, I’m only a freshman.’ It’s now my senior year and it feels like it’s been a blink of an eye.”

Barner has definitely left her mark at Golden Valley after shouldering the pitching load for four years. Despite Friday’s loss, the Cougars are still in title contention in the Central California Conference, trailing Atwater by just one game in the loss column.

Barner currently leads the Sac-Joaquin Section in strikeouts with an eye-popping 197 punchouts in 97 innings pitched. Her strikeout total also ranks seventh in the state.

Barner says it’s fun to look at the section leaders because she’s competing with a friend from travel ball in Gregori High (Modesto) ace Kailey Estes, who has racked up 185 strikeouts, for the section lead.

“I do look, I do stalk that,” Barner said. “It makes me happy to know that I’m up there and I’m really putting the work in and it’s showing in games.”

Golden Valley High pitcher Bree Barner reacts after picking up a key strikeout during a game against Patterson on Friday, April 20, 2024 at Golden Valley High School in Merced, Calif.
Golden Valley High pitcher Bree Barner reacts after picking up a key strikeout during a game against Patterson on Friday, April 20, 2024 at Golden Valley High School in Merced, Calif.

Barner says she and Estes love to compete and always root for each other to do well.

Barner has been a softball star since arriving at Golden Valley as a freshman. She racked up 301 strikeouts as a freshman in just over 173 innings pitched, compiling a 12-9 record with a 1.41 ERA.

In her four-year career, Barner is 27-22 with a 1.59 ERA with 696 strikeouts in 395.1 innings pitched.

“Her rise ball has always been her go-to pitch,” said Golden Valley coach Ross Cruickshanks. “She’s really worked on her changeup and she’s working that in. She really uses all her pitches. She’s been really consistent.”

Barner has added to her arsenal over the years. This year she’s added a drop and a drop-curve that has made her a more complete pitcher. She can attack hitters up in the zone with her rise ball or make them chase down with her drops. She also can change speeds and work in or away.

“I definitely picked up some new pitches and I’ve definitely picked up some more speed,” Barner said. “I’m just going out there with more confidence.”

Golden Valley High senior Bree Barner, center, chats with teammates during a game against Patterson on Friday, April 20, 2024 at Golden Valley High School in Merced, Calif.
Golden Valley High senior Bree Barner, center, chats with teammates during a game against Patterson on Friday, April 20, 2024 at Golden Valley High School in Merced, Calif.

Barner has been rolling, striking out at least 10 batters in 11 consecutive games, including a 20-strikeout performance against El Capitan. The right-hander also struck out 18 against Merced and 16 hitters against Escalon during her impressive stretch of games.

Barner has only surrendered three earned runs in 40 innings pitched during Central California Conference play for a 0.53 ERA.

Barner is also excelling with the bat, hitting .510 with eight doubles, three homers and 25 RBI.

Barner has helped Golden Valley stay near the top of the CCC with the Cougars (5-2 CCC) traveling to Atwater (7-1 CCC) for a conference showdown on Wednesday.

Golden Valley High pitcher Bree Barner delivers a pitch during a game against Patterson on Friday, April 20, 2024 at Golden Valley High School in Merced, Calif. Barner leads the Sac-Joaquin Section with 197 strikeouts.
Golden Valley High pitcher Bree Barner delivers a pitch during a game against Patterson on Friday, April 20, 2024 at Golden Valley High School in Merced, Calif. Barner leads the Sac-Joaquin Section with 197 strikeouts.

Cruickshanks says one of the big reasons he returned to coach his 14th season at Golden Valley was to coach Barner and shortstop Stefani Ramirez as seniors.

Cruickshanks says he’s seen a more relaxed Barner this season with her college decision made and out of the way.

“She’s committed, she knows where she’s going to play next year,” Cruickshanks said. “I think that’s helped her relax a bit. She can just focus on softball.”

Barner agreed.

“Stan State was my dream school,” she said. “I’ve been wanting to go there for years. When I finally got picked up, it was a dream come true.”

“Being able to come out here and just pitch, and know that this isn’t my last year, this isn’t my last few games I have,” Barner added. “I have four more years at a dream school and dream team and I’m excited for it.”

It took a lot of hard work, countless hours of practice for Barner to accomplish her goals.

“It feels good to know I’ve made it,” she said. “Through all the failures and all the losses I came back, I put my work in and I can show all of that on the field.”