Get well soon, State Coach of the Year

State Softball Coach of the Year Mike Smith of Chino poses for a photo with two of his players after team won second straight CIFSS Division II title. Photo: Mark Tennis.

State Softball Coach of the Year Mike Smith of Chino poses for a photo with two of his players after team won second straight CIFSS Division II title. Photo: Mark Tennis.

Chino’s Mike Smith earns top statewide overall honor for 2013 season and learns of it after being released from the hospital. We also congratulate medium schools and small schools state coaches of the year.

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Talk about dedication as a coach.

After just getting released from a hospital stay for what turned out to be heat stroke, three-time CIF Southern Section Division II championship coach Mike Smith still took the time to return a call to Cal-Hi Sports even though it was almost midnight on Thursday.

“The pressure of coaching didn’t do it. That’s what I live for,” Smith said about getting hospitalized for what doctors originally feared might be meningitis.

Now, after four years at Chino Hills and a CIFSS D2 championship in 2005, and seven years at Chino with back-to-back Southern Section Division II titles the past two seasons, the respected Inland Empire travel ball coach has been named the 2013 Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year.

He’s the second straight coach from the Inland Empire to win the honor, and fifth IE coach to win the award since it was started in 1974.

“I got the CIF (Southern Section Division II) Coach of the Year and I was shocked since I had been passed over before, but to get statewide coach of the year means a lot to receive that kind of recognition, and I appreciate it very much, but I still tell everyone it’s the kids that do all the work,” said Smith, who has also had a lot of success coaching the SoCal Athletics U16 team the past 21 years.

This past season the “kids” went 26-2, with lone one-run losses to Santa Ana Mater Dei, 1-0, and Mission Viejo, 7-6.

After the Mission Viejo setback, the Cowgirls won 21 straight. Because one of their losses was to Mater Dei, Smith’s girls only received the No. 3 seed in the playoffs.

Undaunted, and with top-seeded Mission Viejo upset in the first round, Chino blew past its five playoff opponents, outscoring them 24-2 combined, including a 4-0 victory over No. 2 seed Lakewood in the championship game.

“This past season was a big challenge because we lost four seniors from last year, and almost all our hitting since they were the numbers one, three, four and five batters,” Smith remarked.

What Chino did have was a strong returning pitcher, and a bunch of underclass girls that stepped up big time to fill the void.

“The freshmen came in and did a great job, and our pitcher was unbelievable,” Smith continued.

The pitcher is Utah-committed Miranda Viramontes. The junior star was 26-1 with five no-hitters and five one-hitters. Plus, she didn’t pitch in the loss to Mission Viejo.

“It’s insane what she’s done,” Smith said about his pitcher that was named the CIF Southern Section Division II Player of the Year. “You have to go back to Lisa Fernandez and Amanda Freed to see a season’s performance like she had.”

Fernandez and Freed both played on more than one Olympic team, and each was Ms. Softball State Player of the Year. Fernandez won in 1989 at Lakewood, and Freed captured the award in 1997 and 1998 at Garden Grove Pacifica.

“A lot of my success has to do with my having a great staff,” Smith said.

The staff is going to have to go it alone this weekend at a travel ball tournament in Lancaster since Smith is staying home to rest up.

Hopefully, he’ll recover quickly and maybe winning State Coach of the Year will help make him feel a little better while he’s on the mend.

More Cal-Hi Sports State Softball Coaches of the Year

Medium Schools:
Linda Merrida (Pioneer, Woodland)

Prior to the 2004-2005 school year, when Linda Merrida started the varsity program at Pioneer with her husband, Bryan Merrida, as her top assistant, and with daughter Christina Merrida playing in the program, she was already a respected coach in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section. Merrida was also an integral part of one of the greatest games in California girls’ softball history.

Before Pioneer opened, and as head coach of crosstown Woodland, her team struck out a state record 61 times in the 2001 CIFSJS Division I championship game against 2002 Ms. Softball and Olympian Alicia Hollowell of Fairfield. And even stranger twist is the Wolves won the 30-inning game played over two days, 1-0.

“We won that one but lost 3-0 the next day and finished runner up,” said Merrida, who’s taught PE since Pioneer opened and also had a long stint as athletic director.

This year, after upsetting top-seeded Rocklin Whitney in the first round, and then losing to Antelope the next game, the Patriots won four straight in the double-elimination format, including beating Antelope twice to claim the CIFSJS Division III championship.

Now, after a second CIFSJS championship, with the first coming in 2006 in Division IV, eight league titles, and a record of 24-6 this year and 198-50-3 that includes no losing seasons in her nine years at the Patriots’ helm, Merrida has been named the Cal-Hi Sports Medium Schools State Coach of the Year.

“I really wasn’t expecting anything like this because it’s not a one-person show,” said Merrida, who has stayed on to coach with Bryan long after Christina graduated in 2006.

“We do it for the love of softball, the great kids we’ve had come through, and we want to put Pioneer on the map.”

That this year’s team was the one to help its coach win an honor, and really get Pioneer some recognition, came as somewhat of a surprise.

“We lost five senior starters but this team had chemistry and made the sacrifices,” Merrida remarked. “That’s what made this year so special because I didn’t expect them to go this far.”

Small Schools:
Melissa Bugarin-Espinoza (Port of Los Angeles, San Pedro)

Just like the Medium Schools winner, the Small Schools State Coach of the Year honor goes to a woman whose husband is her right hand man, and in the case of Melissa Bugarin-Espinoza, that would be Co-Coach Moses Espinoza.

“Oh my goodness, that’s wonderful. Thank you so much. We are very humbled,” Bugarin-Espinoza told Cal-Hi Sports when informed she was being honored.

For a team from a school that only opened in 2005, and didn’t have a varsity softball team until 2009, the success the program has had since Bugarin-Espinoza and her husband came aboard in 2010 is phenomenal.

This past season, not only did the girls from San Pedro win the Los Angeles City Section Small School championship for the third straight year, the Polar Bears pretty much iced the playoff field by outscoring four opponents 63-4 combined, including a 16-3 win over Northridge Academy (Northridge) in the title game, the same team they beat 2-0 in last year’s championship final.

The team finished 28-8 but most of the losses were early on and to larger schools, including a 3-0 setback to Big VIII League champion M.L. King of Riverside. Down the stretch the Polar Bears finished with seven-straight wins and outscored opponents 107-8 collectively.

“The key to our success was we only lost three players from last year, we plugged up our weaknesses, and the girls went into the tournaments against larger schools with no fear – and that prepared us for the playoffs,” said Bugarin-Espinoza, a civilian who works in the Marine Exchange that controls vessel traffic on the water.

For Bugarin-Espinoza, besides the coaching honor and three-straight L.A. City Section titles, she has three consecutive league titles in three years in the Crosstown League, and a 79-24-1 coaching record in four years overall.

All-Time List Cal-Hi Sports
State Softball Coaches Of The Year

2013 — Mike Smith, Chino (26-2)
2012 — Rick Robinson, Norco (30-2)
2011 — Scott Smith, Hollister San Benito (29-1)
2010 — Teri Johnson, Union City James Logan (25-5)
2009 — Tony Dobra, San Pedro (28-4)
2008 — Duane Zauner, Lake of the Pines Bear River (29-3)
2007 — Mary Jo Truesdale, Sacramento Sheldon (29-1)
2006 — John Perez, Corona Santiago (26-5)
2005 — Art Banks, Roseville Woodcreek (28-6)
2004 — Pete Ackermann, Westlake Village Oaks Christian (34-1)
2003 — Rob Weil, Garden Grove Pacifica (31-2)
2002 — Brad Griffith, San Diego Mira Mesa (35-1)
2001 — Gary Walin, Thousand Oaks (24-5)
2000 — Jo Ann Byrd, Corona (28-4)
1999 — Jim Liggett, Belmont Carlmont (35-4)
1998 — Joe Given, Salinas Notre Dame (30-2-1)
1997 — Alan Dugard, Irvine Woodbridge (34-2)
1996 — Nancy Acerrio, Chula Vista Hilltop (27-2)
1995 — Marie Dean, Fremont Washington (27-0)
1994 — Joe Gonzalez, Tustin Foothill (25-7)
1993 — Jill Matyuch, Covina Charter Oak (29-0-1)
1992 — Jeff Carlovsky, Escondido (26-2)
1991 — Kevin Newman, San Jose Gunderson (33-2)
1990 — Susie Calderon, Huntington Beach Marina (28-5)
1989 — Sharon Coggins, Ventura Buena (28-2)
1988 — Rich Kerr, San Lorenzo Arroyo (29-1)
1987 — Bob Regpala, Stockton Lincoln (30-0)
1986 — Dick Barnes, El Monte Arroyo (22-1)
1985 — Neils Ludlow, Woodland Hills El Camino Real (19-0)
1984 — Aaron Ishikawa, Stockton Lincoln (37-1)
1983 — Carol Hamilton, San Diego Madison (23-1)
1982 — Rich Spiekerman, Lodi (29-3)
1981 — Leslie Steffen, Hanford (20-4)
1980 — Bob Bush, Santa Maria Righetti (29-0)
1979 — Barbara Weding, Santa Rosa Montgomery (26-1)
1978 — Peggy Linville, Fairfield Armijo (23-0)
1977 — Betsy Ward, Huntington Beach Marina (17-0)
1976 — Janet Balsley, Chula Vista Hilltop (17-0)
1975 — Sally Carmen, Downey Warren (19-1)
1974 — Sandi Behrmann, El Segundo (undefeated)

Note: Mark Tennis contributed to this report.

Harold Abend is the associate editor of and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend

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