By Mark Tennis
Contributing: Paul Muyskens
Softball coach Mark Campbell at Pacifica of Garden Grove has a unique problem to deal with during the 2013 season and that’s how to spread the innings among a talented pitching trio that would seem to have the ability to serve as aces at perhaps 95 percent of other high schools in California.
Since the Mariners also have a wealth of returning starters that will bat and play in the field, they have been tabbed as the No. 1 team in the Cal-Hi Sports preseason state top 20.
Junior Kaylee Carlson has been primarily the staff ace since her freshman year and returns with a verbal commitment to North Carolina. Last year, Kailee Winegarner also emerged as a pitcher that can shut down opposing teams and was regarded as one of the best freshmen pitchers in Southern California. She has already committed to Stanford. The two combined to go 28-3 last season with 228 strikeouts and ERAs of 0.99 for Carlson and 0.44 for Winegarner.
Joining Carlson and Winegarner this season is Katya Duvall. She was the JV pitcher last season as a freshman, but has looked good enough in travel ball play that she already has a verbal commitment to Ohio State.
“Our strength will be pitching depth and solid defense,” Campbell said. “We have some big hitters who we will need to have great seasons for us to compete for a (CIF Southern Section) Division I title.”
While Pacifica may have the state’s top pitching, it’s hard to argue that Norco (last year’s No. 1 team in the state as well as No. 1 in the ESPN FAB 50 for the nation) will have the best infield.
Although the Cougars must do without graduated Ms. Softball State Player of the Year Emily Lockman (now pitching at Nebraska), they return all-state shortstop Kylie Reed, a Cal recruit who batted .550 with 66 hits as a junior. Also back are senior third base Taylor Koenig (Tennessee), junior second base Ashley Goodwin (Ohio State) and alternating first base/designated players Savannah Clark, a junior committed to Colorado State, and sophomore Abby Lockman, Emily’s younger sister who already has committed to Tennessee.
Here are the 2013 Cal-Hi Sports preseason top 20 state softball rankings (listed with win-loss record from last season):
1. Pacifica (Garden Grove) 28-3
Ohio State-bound Rebecca Lee had 30 RBIs for the Mariners last season and is one of several top hitters to go along with all that pitching (see above). In addition, head coach Mark Campbell can count on junior infielder Nicole Dewitt (Florida) plus junior infielder Brooke Marquez (Northwestern), junior outfielder Faith Canfield (Michigan) and senior infielder Ruby Rivera (Illinois). The Mariners also have additional depth from a JV team that didn’t lose a game last season, including perfect records in three tournaments. In fact, the team still only has two seniors on the roster, which makes Pacifica a contender to be No. 1 in the state and nation for a long time.
2. Norco 31-2
According to head coach Rick Robinson (the 2012 Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year), replacing Emily Lockman in the circle will be junior Kristen Voller, who pitched on the JV level last year with a 19-1 record, along with freshman Kerisa Viramontes, who already has committed to Loyola Marymount. The Cougars aren’t as loaded in the outfield as they are in the infield (see above), but it’s not bad, either. Junior centerfielder Amanda Sandoval (a Cal Poly San Luis Obispo commit) leads that group.
3. Amador Valley (Pleasanton) 26-1
New coach Teresa Borchard takes over for Julie Marshall and inherits the top preseason team in Northern California. The Dons’ only loss last year came in the CIF North Coast Section Division I final in a 1-0 game to James Logan of Union City. The top returnee is dominating pitcher Johanna Grauer, the Cal-Hi Sports State Sophomore of the Year. She has committed to Arizona State after striking out 328 batters with a 0.33 ERA last year. Six other starters besides Grauer also are back, including outfielder Krista Williams (Northwestern), junior shortstop Ashley Lotozynski (UC Davis) and junior catcher Victoria Molina, who has an offer from Stanford but also is considering Ivy League colleges due to her academics.
4. Esperanza (Anaheim) 25-7
The Aztecs are loaded with everyone back except for just three graduated seniors. Coach Ed Tunstall has a big-time pitcher among the returnees as well. She’s junior Hayley Copeland, who had a 1.14 ERA last season and struck out 214 batters. She has already committed to South Carolina. The junior class has been stellar since many were freshmen, including outfielder Bryanna Castro, who hit .429 last year, and utility player Bryley Steele (.444, 5 homers). Sophomore catcher Maddie Roth batted .469 as a freshman.
5. James Logan (Union City) 24-1
Returning pitcher Raeann Garza tossed a shutout in last year’s NCS final against Amador Valley, which denied the Dons the chance to be unbeaten and No. 1 in the nation. Although Jazmine Reed’s dazzling play at shortstop will need to be replaced, the Colts should be a formidable defending champion. In addition to Garza, also back for coach Teri Johnson are catcher Caley Bonansea, first base Melina Rodriguez and pitcher/outfielder Kimberly Goulart (who has signed with Santa Clara). Garza was one of the leading hitters for last year’s squad as well.
6. Edison (Huntington Beach) 26-5
The Chargers are one of those teams that did suffer some significant graduation losses (Casey Africano, Jessica Plaza) but are getting a fairly high preseason ranking because they have one of the state’s top pitchers coming back. As a junior, Samantha Cordova pitched almost every inning with a 25-5 record and a 0.88 ERA. Among the other returnees, watch out for sisters Karley Wester (senior outfielder) and Aly Wester (sophomore infielder).
7. Woodcreek (Roseville) 26-4
Only three seniors were on the roster last season when the Timberwolves won the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division II title. That makes them the team to beat not just in Division II but for the entire section. Veteran coach Art Banks has his No. 1 pitcher back, Amanda Horbasch (0.96 ERA), plus three of the squad’s top four hitters – Christal Vierra, Lexi Wilkerson and Frankie Orlando.
8. Los Alamitos 23-7
If the Griffins had not lost sisters Andi and Alex Formby to Mater Dei of Santa Ana due to a move and transfer, they would have probably been in the top three or four in the state to start the season. Still, coach Rob Weir and his staff should have one of the top squads in Southern California. Seven starters are back, led by all-state underclass infielder Megan Geer (Tennessee), outfielder Erika Crissman (Indiana State) and third base Alex Finie (Loyola Marymount). Los Al coaches also really like the idea of experienced catcher Rachel Sellers (University of Pacific) handling up-and-coming sophomore pitchers Katie Neary and Taylor Covington.
9. El Diamante (Visalia) 30-2
It may be tough for the Miners to move up too far in the rankings as the season goes along because they aren’t venturing out of the CIF Central Section to face other top teams from around the state. Still, they are expected to get the job done this year and win the Division I section title that eluded them last year. The team features one of the top pitcher-catcher combos in the state with pitcher Sierra Hyland (30-2, 1.02, 312 Ks) and catcher Katy McJunkin (.465, 33 RBI). Hyland (Cal Poly San Luis Obispo) and McJunkin (Purdue) also are headed to Division I colleges. Also among a group of seven returning starters are junior outfielder Baylie Jensen (Virginia Tech), sophomore infielder Rylee Pierce (Missouri) and senior infielder Stevi Johnson (Charleston Southern).
10. Santiago (Corona) 23-10
The Sharks still have senior Erica Romero in the circle and enough firepower to challenge Norco in the Big VIII League and in the CIF Southern Section. Two years ago, when Romero was a sophomore, she was the winning pitcher when Santiago topped Canyon of Anaheim in the CIFSS Division I championship. She only went 10-7 as a junior, but most of the losses were to top-ranked teams. Santiago’s other top returnees are junior Randel Leahy (9 homers, 41 RBIs) and senior Brittany Abacherli (.402, 25 RBIs).
11. San Benito (Hollister) 23-3
Veteran coach Scott Smith, the 2011 Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year, should have another squad ready to roll in the CIF Central Coast Section. The Balers have won seven straight Division I section crowns and only lost two seniors from last season’s roster. Leading the pack is pitcher Megan Sabbatini, who also should be one of the team’s top hitters. Although San Benito tends not to play as tough a schedule as CCS rival Archbishop Mitty (the two also normally are not in the same playoff division), the high number of returning players and the team’s run of consecutive section titles is enough for us to start the Balers just right in front of the Monarchs in this year’s preseason rankings.
12. Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) 27-2
Losing a dominant player to graduation is not a new thing for the Monarchs. They were fine after national and state player of the year Keilani Ricketts left for the University of Oklahoma and should be okay with Vanessa Alvarez leaving for Cal after last season. In a state like California, though, such a loss is going to cause other teams that are not in that situation to be ranked higher – at least at the start of the next season. Sophomore Danielle Bowers was the No. 2 pitcher last season and also returns after hitting .366. At this point, according to head coach Brian Yocke, it looks like Bowers, along with upcoming JV pitcher Desiree Severance, will split the pitching this season. Jazmyn Jackson doesn’t pitch, but with her back the Monarchs do have perhaps the state’s best outfielder. She batted .551 as a sophomore with 54 hits. Another all-state candidate could be infielder Kiersten Nordin, a four-year starter who batted .359.
13. Torrey Pines (San Diego) 31-5
The Falcons look like the team to beat in the CIF San Diego Section. Notre Dame-bound Rachel Nasland leads a group of returnees that comprised most of last year’s roster (just five seniors) and it was a team that won the Division I section crown. Nasland went 17-2 in the circle with a 0.55 ERA and had 205 strikeouts. Top RBI producer Julia Yacker along with senior multi-purpose player Kaitlin Schreiber and junior outfielder Kelsey Buchanan also are among those back.
14. Mission Viejo 24-6
A team that included two highly regarded freshmen last year won the title in the competitive South Coast League, battled Norco tough in a 1-0 loss and also beat Los Alamitos. Those freshmen – pitcher Taylor McQuillin (an Oklahoma State commit who had a 0.80 ERA and a 23-5 record) and infielder Alyssa Palomino (who hit seven homers and had a .469 average) – are back as sophomores and make the Diablos a team to watch this season.
15. Elk Grove 20-7
Only three seniors were on last year’s team at Elk Grove, which along with Sheldon of Sacramento and Pleasant Grove of Elk Grove usually produces at least one top state-ranked squad. The Thundering Herd should have strong pitching with returnees Erica Burke (a senior) and Kim Wilburn (a junior). Among those back with strong bats are sophomores Morgan Lamb (.410) and Victoria Saborio (.370).
16. Saugus 22-8
With teams such as the Centurions, along with Valencia, Canyon and Hart, the CIF Southern Section’s Foothill League is traditionally one of the toughest three or four leagues in the state. Last year’s team at Saugus was state-ranked at times and had just three seniors on the roster. Among the returnees is all-state underclass Alanna Layton, who won 13 games as a pitcher and had seven homers with 32 RBIs as a hitter. Others back include outfielder Diana Mendoza (.356, 24 runs scored) and shortstop Rachel Shotzberger (25 RBIs).
17. Chino Hills 32-3
Coach Mike Southworth loses three top players to graduation – pitcher Nikki Innamorato, infielder Nikki Girard and catcher Paige Gumz – but the roster certainly remains stocked with talent. Junior Patricia Parks should step into the No. 1 pitcher’s role if she’s healthy and has a scholarship offer from Arizona. Sophomore Tannon Snow also is back. She was a candidate for state freshman of the year after batting .436 with eight homers and 34 RBIs.
18. Mater Dei (Santa Ana) 17-10
With the addition of sisters Andie and Alex Formby, who have transferred from Los Alamitos, the Monarchs become a top 20 team to start and could quickly rise in the rankings as the season goes along. The Formby sisters, both juniors, pitch and play first base. Andie was regarded as one of the state’s top sophomore pitchers last season. Coach Doug Myers has several other key returnees, led by infielder Nicolette Udria, who hit almost .400 as a junior.
19. Lutheran (Orange) 27-5
The Lancers were a two-headed monster last season with Jade Vecvenags and Madison Osias and will need Vecvenags to be even more of a pitching-hitting success with Osias graduated. The University of Illinois-bound standout was all-state underclass after going 16-1 in the circle and hitting 10 home runs with her bat. Some other pieces of the puzzle also return – senior outfielder Olivia Sandusky (.463, 21 RBIs, going to University of San Diego) and senior infielder Devin Montgomery (.304, going to Utah State).
20. El Capitan (Lakeside) 21-9
Most of the top hitters are back from a 2012 team of Vaqueros that won the CIF San Diego Section Division III championship. What makes them a preseason team to watch, though, is the return of dominating player Delanie Gourley. She signed with national power Florida in the fall and is the reigning San Diego Section player of the year. She struck out 335 batters as a pitcher last season and also hit .540 at the plate.
Teams on the Bubble
Alhambra (Martinez) 22-5
Cajon (San Bernardino) 22-5-1
California (San Ramon) 16-10
Carlmont (Belmont) 24-4
Central (Fresno) 28-6
Foothill (Tustin) 14-14
Heritage (Brentwood) 22-3
Leigh (San Jose) 20-10
Sheldon (Sacramento) 21-9
Sierra (Manteca) 18-6
Vista Murrieta (Murrieta) 23-5-1
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