Preseason State Top 20 in softball finds three Orange County schools among the top five, led by No. 1 Mission Viejo and No. 2 Pacifica. Amador Valley will start No. 1 in Northern California for an obvious reason.
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(All teams listed with win-loss record from last season)
(Thanks to Paul Muyskens for contributing to these rankings)
(Look for first regular season state rankings to begin later in March)
1. Mission Viejo 26-2
For much of the 2013 regular season, the Diablos sat atop the State Top 20 and although they didn’t get it done in the CIF Southern Section Division II playoffs they are loaded with big-time returnees for 2014. Junior Alyssa Palomino, granddaughter of boxing legend Carlos Palomino, slugged 17 home runs as a sophomore to break the Orange County record and put her name into the Cal-Hi Sports State Record Book. She’s already committed to Arizona, which is also where junior pitcher Taylor McQuillin also has committed. McQuillin is ranked as one of the nation’s top college prospects. Another major contributer back is senior Shianne Ybarra. She plays outfield and infield and batted .393 last season. Ybarra also has signed with Tennessee.
2. Pacifica (Garden Grove) 26-6
Have you ever heard of a high school softball team with two pitchers that both are headed to major Division I college programs? Well, the Mariners fit that mold. The two are four-year starter Kaylee Carlson (North Carolina) and Kaley Winegarner (Stanford), who missed most of last season with a knee injury. Although there are some key seniors who have graduated, especially all-state first baseman Rebecca Lee, the rest of the lineup will include senior infielder Nicole DeWitt (Florida), who hit .457 last season with 16 homers, and junior outfielder Faith Canfield (Michigan).
3. Amador Valley (Pleasanton) 22-3
With UCLA-bound Johanna Grauer and the rest of a deep senior class that is back for another run at the CIF North Coast Section Division I title, the Dons are a logical preseason pick for No. 1 in Northern California. With two-time defending section champ James Logan hit hard by graduation, Grauer and her teammates seem perfectly poised for a huge spring. She’s one of the nation’s top pitchers who had a 0.08 ERA last year to with a 22-2 record and 274 strikeouts. Other top senior standouts should be Stanford-bound Victoria Molina at catcher, along with infielder Ashley Lotosynzki (UC Davis), outfielder Nicole Yozzo (Lehigh) and outfielder Hanna Moreno (Colgate).
4. Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) 27-1
Four-year starter Jazmyn Jackson of the Monarchs can make a claim that she’s the top position player in the state. The speedy infielder was the San Jose Mercury-News Player of the Year as a junior, has earned a scholarship to Cal and was a nominee for the prestigious California Ms. Softball State Player of the Year selection. Jackson will be joined as a returnee at Mitty by pitcher Desiree Severance and several other key starters. Severance has signed with Drexel.
5. Esperanza (Anaheim) 24-4
Another team with an elite-level returning pitcher, a big-time bat and great depth is the Aztecs. They’ll be led by all-state pitcher Hayley Copeland, who went 18-4 in the circle as a junior with 228 strikeouts. She’ll play next at South Carolina. Infielder Brynley Steele also is back. All she did last year was hit .453 with six homers and earn all-state underclass honors. Steele also has signed with Arizona State. Two other seniors to watch are outfielder Emily Sklencar (Loyola Marymount) and utility player Bryanna Castro (McNeese State).
6. Vintage (Napa) 34-1
The Crushers only lost once in their successful quest for the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I title, but didn’t play as strong a schedule as some other recent Sac-Joaquin title teams like Sheldon and Pleasant Grove. This year, however, Vintage is playing in the Livermore Stampede, the top tourney in Northern California and one of the best in the nation. Head coach Rick Robben also should have a team capable winning that title and also repeating as section champs. Top returnees include pitcher Emily Oestreich (33-0, 1.50) and infielder Baylee Robben (led the team with five homers and 57 RBI).
7. Norco 27-8
Although Cal-Hi Sports Ms. Softball State Player of the Year Kylie Reed is now playing at Cal, the Cougars look like the team to beat in the Inland Empire. Sophomore pitcher Kerisa Viramontes got roughed up in the CIF Southern Section final by Corona Santiago, but earlier in the playoffs she was the winning pitcher against both Mission Viejo and Pacifica. The Cougars also return several of their top hitters, including Abby Lockman, Ashley Goodwin and Savannah Clark. One of the nation’s top freshmen, Taylor Dockins, also will be on the team.
8. Marina (Huntington Beach) 25-4
With one of the best players in the state who can pitch and hit, the Vikings should be in the mix of top teams in Orange County and within the CIF Southern Section. Senior Tera Blanco is that player. She’s signed to go to Michigan and went 25-4 in the circle as a junior with a 0.70 ERA. She also batted .420 with five homers. Only four seniors were lost from last season in all, which is another reason to like this squad.
9. Yorba Linda 24-4
Head coach Sharon Farrell earned OC Varsity Coach of the Year honors after guiding the Mustangs to a breakout season in 2013. It started with a big win over Amador Valley when the Dons were No. 1 in the nation in one poll. Pitcher Paige Von Sprecken leads a strong group of returning players. Headed for the University of San Diego, she had 228 strikeouts in 168 innings last season and pitched three no-hitters. UConn-bound shortstop-catcher Taylor Townsend, who hit .500 as a junior, also is back, along with sister Jordan Townsend (.475), Mallory Cleveland (.455) and sophomore Lauren Brooks (.415).
10. California (San Ramon) 21-5
The Grizzlies figure to be the main threat to Amador Valley in the CIF North Coast Section and happen to be in the same league. Although Johanna Grauer’s injury was a factor in Amador not winning the NCS title, California still posted a win over the Dons earlier in the season with Grauer playing. The roster from last season returns some top players, but the major reason to choose the Grizzlies this high is senior pitcher Lindsey Chalmers. The Cal Poly San Luis Obispo recruit was one of the top pitchers in Northern California last year.
11. Santiago (Corona) 30-5
The 2013 State Team of the Year and perennial power from the Inland Empire loses No. 1 pitcher Erica Romero and some other key starters. Head coach John Perez and his assistants, however, always have a strong team heading into the postseason and this year’s team does have some outstanding bats coming back. Among those on that list are senior Randel Leahy (team best eight homers) and junior Rachel Minogue (.471).
12. Chino 26-2
Inland Empire Daily Bulletin Player of the Year Miranda Viramontes is back for the Cowgirls, who won the CIFSS Division II title last season (their second in a row). Viramontes, headed to Utah, pitched a one-hitter in the final and had one no-hitter and two additional one-hitters in the playoffs alone. There are some solid position players that 2013 State Coach of the Year Mike Smith must replace, but with Viramontes back it’s easy to see that Chino should remain among the state’s elite squads.
13. Chino Hills 25-8
From top to bottom, the Huskies have a lot more returning talent than nearby Chino, but as is our custom we tend to reward a team like Chino in the next preseason rankings for being a two-time section champ and having a dominant returning pitcher. For Chino Hills, eight starters return, led by pitcher-hitter Patricia Parks, a career .439 hitter with 30 career pitching wins and headed to Arizona. Junior outfielder Tannon Snow already has 19 career homers and has committed to Washington. Her younger sister, Taylon, a freshman, is joining the show and she’s already committed to Washington, too. Another freshman, catcher/outfielder Alyssa Card, has major D1 offers. On top of that is the depth of a senior class including infielders Alyssa Mendez (Nevada) and Shianne Brannan (Cal State Fullerton).
14. Mater Dei (Santa Ana) 23-5
New coach Tia Meza takes over from veteran leader Doug Myers at the helm of the program. Meza inherits a solid group from last year’s Trinity League champions, too. Twins Alex and Andie Formby are both headed to the University of Virginia and signed with the Cavaliers as pitchers. Offensively, the Monarchs’ top returnee is junior Melissa Rochford, who hit .446 as a sophomore.
15. James Logan (Union City) 26-1
Teri Johnson is one of the winningest coaches in state history and will have a challenge this season with the bulk of her team graduated. As the two-time defending CIF North Coast Section Division I champions, however, and with a No. 3 final state ranking from 2013 we’re not going to completely forget about the Colts, either. The team’s top returnee is senior shortstop Tayler Peters.
16. Rancho Bernardo (San Diego) 25-8
The Broncos are the defending CIF San Diego Division II champions and are starting out 2014 as the No. 1 ranked team overall in the section. There were some strong seniors on last year’s team, but pitcher Sara White wasn’t one of them. She was a junior and has been spinning no-hitters at the school since she was a sophomore. She has signed with Notre Dame. Two others coming back with all-league credentials are Tori McIntyre and Skylee James.
17. Central (Fresno) 19-10
With two straight Division I titles and only one player that was a senior last year, the Grizzlies are the team to beat in the CIF Central Section. Topping the list of returnees is pitcher Rachel Rodriguez, who has signed with Boise State and got hot last year down the stretch. She finished with a 0.82 ERA and 197 strikeouts. Others include infielder Jilee Schenda (.398, Boston College); junior catcher Alyssa Avila (.432); and senior outfielder Kaylynn Burt (Cal State Bakersfield).
18. M.L. King (Riverside) 24-7
The Wolves can be the third wheel in the same league as Corona Santiago and Norco, but they’re going to be a factor once again and are a statewide team to watch. No. 1 pitcher Alexis Osorio struck out 230 batters and had a 1.40 ERA last season (which is like 0.20 against your average high school competition). She has signed with Alabama. Two other signers were Sarah Costlow (George Washington) and Bryana Clark (South Dakota State). There also were just five seniors on last year’s team.
19. San Benito (Hollister) 25-3
The Haybalers have Central of Fresno beat – and every other softball team in the state for that matter – with eight straight CIF Central Coast Section Division I titles. They don’t have too many players back from last season, but head coach Scott Smith’s program deserves to be in the State Top 20 for the preseason just on historical significance alone. Junior pitcher Adriana Ibarra could be one returnee to watch.
20. Saugus 20-10
If super catcher Maddy Jelenicki was playing this season for the Centurions, they’d probably have been in the top 10. Jelenicki, who is headed to UCLA, was not shown on the team’s roster as posted on its web site and sources have indicated at the time of this writing that she will not be on the team. Still, Saugus is a solid pick to win in the usually loaded Foothill League and there were only five seniors on last year’s team. Sophomore pitcher Mariah Lopez has impressed enough to get an offer from NCAA champion Oklahoma and has committed with the Sooners. Alyssa Rodriguez also is back after hitting .351 with five homers and 23 RBI.
NEXT 20 TEAMS ON THE BUBBLE
•Alhambra (Martinez) 23-3-1
•Bonita Vista (Chula Vista) 23-5-1
•Carlmont (Belmont) 25-4
•Christian Brothers (Sacramento) 20-11
•Highland (Palmdale) 22-2
•Leland (San Jose) 26-3
•Los Osos (Rancho Cucamonga) 20-5
•Oaks Christian (Westlake Village) 25-8
•Pleasant Grove (Elk Grove) 22-11
•Sierra (Manteca) 25-2
•Vista Murrieta (Murrieta) 18-11