We’ll have a separate post coming on Friday containing the actual all-decade all-state softball teams for the 2010s, but for this first announcement we’re taking care of the major awards: State Player of the Decade, State Coach of the Decade, State Team of the Decade and State Game of the Decade. Norco actually could have swept all four, but it’s Cougars’ head coach Rick Robinson that got the nod in that category. Player of the Decade pretty much had to be Highland of Palmdale’s Rachel Garcia. She was doing some pretty amazing things long before she got to UCLA and led the Bruins to an NCAA title.
More All-State All-Decade Teams for 2010s: Baseball | Boys Basketball | Girls Basketball | Football (all still to come)
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CAL-HI SPORTS SOFTBALL
STATE PLAYER OF THE DECADE:
Rachel Garcia (Highland, Palmdale)
She wasn’t able to nail down a Ms. Softball State Player of the Year honor in either her sophomore or senior years, but she was State Medium Schools Player of the Year twice and was Gatorade’s National Player of the Year for 2015.
The sophomore season saw Rachel become a superstar on the prep level as she went 22-2 in the circle with a 0.50 ERA and 302 strikeouts. At the plate, Garcia bombed away for 13 homers, 42 RBI and a .709 batting average.
In 2014, Rachel’s junior season at Highland was great but not as great as her sophomore and senior campaigns. She still compiled pitching stats of 21-3 with a 0.36 ERA and had 323 strikeouts. At the plate that season, Garcia batted .492 with nine homers and 36 RBI.
That senior year ended in one of the most incredible, hard-to-believe CIF Southern Section title games ever played. Garcia struck out 24 batters in 12 innings, but Highland lost 1-0 to Torrance in the Division IV final in 13 innings. Garcia suffered a knee injury after delivering a pitch, but on the same play a potential winning run was thrown out at the plate. For the season, Garcia finished 26-2 as a pitcher with 418 strikeouts and a 0.20 ERA. She also had 20 homers and 57 RBI with bat in hand.
Careerwise, many of Rachel’s totals are in the state record book: 1,315 strikeouts, 87 pitching wins and 44 homers.
At UCLA, Garcia has become a legendary figure through just her sophomore redshirt season. She was the College Player of the Year by USA Softball last season and was the key figure in the Bruins’ winning the NCAA title. And just earlier this week, Garcia was named to the US Olympic team that will look to win a gold medal in Tokyo next summer.
CAL-HI SPORTS SOFTBALL
STATE COACH OF THE DECADE:
Rick Robinson (Norco)
Other than one night perhaps (read later on about that), the decade of the 2010s was quite good for Robinson and the Cougars.
His team just last season won its second straight CIF Southern Section Division I title with a 31-1 final record. In some places, the Cougars were No. 1 in the nation as well. The year before, in 2018, Norco was No. 2 in both the state and nation primarily due to taking head-to-head loss to CIF San Diego Section Open Division champion San Marcos.
Robinson’s squads at Norco also captured CIFSS D1 crowns in 2012 and 2015 and has reached the title game of the toughest playoff bracket in the nation seven times in the past 11 years.
Including seasons from before 2010, Robinson has won five CIFSS titles since 2009. He will start the next decade with a 591-172-3 record (so No. 600 should come fairly quickly) which includes several seasons at Centennial of Corona. He also was an assistant coach at Corona High before that and one of those teams won a CIFSS title.
One of the reasons for Robinson’s success is that he’s had two assistants right there with him at Norco for the entire time. One of those is his sister, Beth Windham, while the other is Dave Angene.
CAL-HI SPORTS SOFTBALL
STATE TEAM OF THE DECADE:
Mission Viejo 2014
This selection is simply a shout out to a group of players for the Diablos in the middle of the decade who were phenomenal.
In 2014, the team led by head coach Troy Ybarra was No. 1 in the nation and won the CIF Southern Section Division II title (before competitive equity divisions). The 2015 Ms. Softball State Player of the Year, Taylor McQuillin, who was still a junior in 2014, won 25 games and dominated with 316 strikeouts. Another junior, Alyssa Palomino, connected for 17 homers and was a Ms. Softball finalist during her career twice. They both have gone to have prominent careers at the University of Arizona.
Most of the 2014 team at Mission were underclassmen. The two seniors who were outstanding were outfielder Alysha Everett (Oregon State) and first baseman Shianne Ybarra (Tennessee).
The Diablos of 2015 were understandably ranked No. 1 in the state and nation at the start and all season seemed positioned to stamp themselves as the greatest team in California history by winning all of the major tournaments. In one of those softball deals, though, they were stunned in their 2015 CIFSS title game by Yucaipa. Since Yucaipa had three losses, some in the media might have still ranked Mission Viejo No. 1 in the nation and state. For our rankings, it had to be Yucaipa 1st (that’s the team that raised the hardware) and Mission second. That’s why we rank the 2014 Diablos higher than 2015.
Several others on the 2014 team who were freshmen also later went on to have outstanding high school careers and led Mission Viejo to high final state rankings. The group included infielder Camryn Ybarra, catcher/first base Bella Loya and pitcher Kyra Snyder.
CAL-HI SPORTS SOFTBALL
STATE GAME OF THE DECADE:
Los Alamitos 3, Norco 1 (2017)
This was the CIFSS Division I championship game and also ended up being a matchup of No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the FAB 50 national rankings. There have been a couple of those over the years, but Norco also was attempting to put the wraps on what would have been a 34-0 season and likely gain acclaim to being the greatest team in state history.
Just like Mission Viejo’s attempt to finish up a season like that in 2015, the Cougars fell short. They did against a battle-hardened group of Griffins that made it a point to get avenging wins. Of the three teams that head coach Rob Weil’s team lost to that season, all three were beaten in return matchups, including Norco.
The key for Los Al was that its ace pitcher, Ryan Denhart, was able to match Norco’s Taylor Dockins, who earlier in the playoffs became the winningest pitcher in CIFSS history.
Denhart did more than that. She helped keep the Cougars hitless until the fifth inning and by that time Los Al had gotten a 3-0 lead. The first two runs in the bottom of the third came on a hard liner by catcher Mary Iakopo of Los Al with two runners on. It could have been caught by the first baseman but wasn’t and the ball dribbled down the right field line that enabled both runners to score. Then in the fourth, Los Al scored on a grounder in a first-and-third with one out situation after a runner had apparently been thrown out at third on the play before. That call was reversed.
Norco didn’t go quietly in its last at-bat. Mikayla Allee homered and with one out Dockins got her second hit of the game. With two outs, Sierra Marshall ripped a line drive toward the left-center field gap. If it had gone through, Dockins would have scored and the tying run would have been in scoring position. None of that happened because Los Al’s Jenna Kean made a diving catch to end the contest.