It’s official as Norco is named the 2019 State Softball Team of the Year. The Cougars previously were State Team of the Year in 2012 and essentially clinched their final overall No. 1 state ranking by winning the CIF Southern Section Division I title on May 17 and finishing 31-1. The Cougars also made it into the CIFSS final game for the seventh time in 11 years, won their third title in five years and have gone 92-5 in the last three years. Still, Foothill of Pleasanton going unbeaten made the final selection not that easy.
For more on all five of our State Teams of the Year (by divisions) in softball, CLICK HERE.
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It might seem like the Norco High softball team is No. 1 in California all the time, but getting listed as State Team of the Year for 2019 is only the second time that it has happened for the Cougars since 1974 (the earliest year a team has been chosen).
Part of the reason why it seems like the Cougars are leading the state so often is that in recent years they’ve been near the top of the state rankings just about every week. Two years ago, in 2017, a 33-0 squad from Norco led by eventual Ms. Softball State Player of the Year Taylor Dockins suffered a loss to Los Alamitos in the CIF Southern Section Division I championship. Norco had to drop from No. 1 to No. 2 in the final rankings. Then last season, the Cougars were No. 2 in the final state rankings again due to a late-season head-to-head loss to CIF San Diego Section champ San Marcos.
“We had to replace quite a few players from the year before, and the difference this year is that the returning players really did a great job with the new ones, letting them know what being a Norco softball player is all about,” said head coach Rick Robinson, who was the State Coach of the Year after the 2012 season when the Cougars were No. 1 in California for the first time. “They just blended together real well. The leadership of the juniors and seniors was amazing. The seniors are graduating with a 118-11 record.”
Two of those seniors, catcher Kinzie Hansen (Oklahoma) and first baseman Paige Smith (Ole Miss), both finished with 148 RBI in their careers. Hansen, one of the nation’s top recruits and chosen as the State Freshman, Sophomore and Junior of the Year for the past three seasons, was especially potent during Norco’s major tournament victories, including the Michelle Carew Classic. She led team in batting average (.467). Smith led the team in home runs (six) and RBI (45) and was at her best in the postseason. Robinson estimated that Smith had 17 RBI in the team’s last eight playoff games.
The junior who stepped up for the Cougars was University of Washington commit Sarah Willis. She pitched a one-hitter and three three-hitters in four CIFSS D1 playoff games with just two unearned runs allowed. Willis also was one of the team’s leading hitters with a .350 average, four homers and 20 RBI.
“When you look at the top teams it’s often the stars matching up with the stars, but I’ve always said it’s the role players that make the difference and our role players were the difference for us,” Robinson said.
The coach pointed to freshman No. 2 hitter Abby Dayton as one of those players. Put in a spot in the lineup surrounded by the other three, Dayton wound up leading the team in runs scored and she had a .370 batting average. Robinson also had the luxury of having a No. 2 pitcher in sophomore Stevie Hansen, who had a 9-0 record and 0.13 ERA in her starts.
With Kinzie, Paige, Sarah and others all returning from last year’s CIFSS D1 title team, the Cougars were an obvious preseason No. 1 team for California and also were No. 1 in at least two national rankings, including the ExtraInningSoftball.com Extra Elite 80 (disclaimer: Cal-Hi Sports also does the national rankings for ExtraInningSoftball.com).
Norco lost its only game during the second round of Big VIII League competition to longtime rival Santiago of Corona 4-3 in eight innings. At the time, knowing that the girls also had a 1-0 win over Santiago and combined with their previous tourney titles (including the Dave Kops TOC in Arizona and the Michelle Carew Classic), the decision was made that if the Cougars came back and won the CIFSS D1 title that they’d still finish in front of Pleasanton Foothill in the final rankings even if Foothill were to end 28-0.
Foothill did indeed complete a 28-0 season last Saturday by winning the CIF North Coast Section Division I title with a 2-0 triumph over Heritage of Brentwood. Switching No. 1 teams at the end of the season is never done in the Cal-Hi Sports rankings (and any person or group who does rankings and does a switch at the end is only showing that they have no idea what they’re doing) so the Falcons will have to be satisfied with being No. 2 in the final state rankings.
Nationally, Norco will be No. 2 in the final Extra Elite 80 behind unbeaten Winter Springs, Florida, which won in a matchup of 30-0 teams last Friday in the Florida Class 8A state final over previous No. 1 Lakewood Ranch (Bradenton, Fla.). The Cougars can claim a national title because both the MaxPreps computer and the MaxPreps XCellent 25 will have them first. We’ve seen schools claim national titles when it’s only the computer that has a team No. 1.
Foothill head coach Matt Sweeney and star Falcons’ pitcher Nicole May were both asked after their title game about playing a team like Norco and other top Southern California teams in a possible CIF state championship. Such a proposal for CIF regional and state playoffs is under consideration and will be up for a vote this fall for the 2020-21 school year.
“I’d love to have it,” Robinson said. “It would be a lot of fun. Years ago, I was on the staff under Matt Logan at Centennial (Corona) and I have seen all that has happened with the football state championships. It’s always fun to play different teams from different parts of the state.”
Until then, we’ll let being the State Team of the Year serve as a continued rallying cry, and it just has to be Norco this time.
ALL-TIME CAL-HI SPORTS
SOFTBALL STATE TEAMS OF THE YEAR
(Selected by Cal-Hi Sports)
2019 – Norco (31-1)
2018 – San Marcos (28-2)
2017 – Los Alamitos (27-3)
2016 – Mission Viejo (27-4)
2015 – Yucaipa (31-3)
2014 – Mission Viejo (26-1)
2013 – Corona Santiago (31-5)
2012 – Norco (31-2)
2011 – Corona Santiago (28-5)
2010 – Chino Hills Ayala (29-5)
2009 – San Jose Archbishop Mitty (32-0)
2008 – Sacramento Sheldon (32-2)
2007 – Valencia (32-1)
2006 – Oakley Freedom (25-0)
2005 – Simi Valley Royal (29-2)
2004 – Garden Grove Pacifica (31-2)
2003 – Garden Grove Pacifica (31-2)
2002 – San Diego Mira Mesa (31-1)
2001 – Fresno Bullard (36-1)
2000 – Tustin Foothill (33-2)
1999 – Fresno Bullard (38-1-1)
1998 – Clovis Buchanan (35-2)
1997 – Garden Grove Pacifica (31-1-1)
1996 – Santa Ana Mater Dei (30-1)
1995 – Huntington Beach Marina (24-5)
1994 – Clovis (31-3) (plus 2 wins by default)
1993 – Covina Charter Oak (29-0-1)
1992 – Stockton Lincoln (35-3)
1991 – Stockton Lincoln (29-3)
1990 – Roseville (37-2)
1989 – Lakewood St. Joseph (26-1)
1988 – Santa Fe Springs St. Paul (21-6)
1987 – Stockton Lincoln (30-0)
1986 – Woodland Hills El Camino Real (19-0)
1985 – Huntington Beach Ocean View (32-0)
1984 – Stockton Lincoln (37-1)
1983 – Lodi (27-2)
1982 – San Diego Madison (20-0)
1981 – Santa Maria Righetti (25-1)
1980 – Santa Maria Righetti (29-0)
1979 – Santa Rosa Montgomery (26-1)
1978 – Fairfield Armijo (23-0)
1977 – Huntington Beach Marina (17-0)
1976 – Chula Vista Hilltop (17-0)
1975 – Downey Warren (18-1)
1974 – El Segundo (undefeated)