There is an asterisk attached to the 2021 State Softball Team of the Year honor that has been earned by Esperanza of Anaheim, but that has nothing to do with the worldwide pandemic that caused the 2020 season to be scrapped after a few weeks. The Aztecs are a legit champion and have become the fourth State Team of the Year in softball from Orange County in the last eight years. The first-ever CIF SoCal regional playoffs that concluded last Saturday wound up having no impact on the final order of the top six teams in the state rankings since all of those teams (including Esperanza) opted out of participation.
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As the 2021 spring softball season was beginning for California high schools, the girls at Esperanza High of Anaheim were generally being pegged as the third-best team from their league. They ended it by gaining Cal-Hi Sports State Team of the Year honors.
The CIF Southern Section Division I champions were No. 1 in the state rankings that came out prior to the first-ever CIF Southern California Division I regional playoffs and nothing changed after those playoffs ended. Esperanza didn’t win, but was one of six top-ranked teams that opted out of participating in those playoffs.
After a vacancy in the State Team of the Year selections in 2020, the Aztecs have become the fourth team from Orange County to end No. 1 in the state in softball in the last eight years. They join Los Alamitos for 2017, Mission Viejo for 2016 and Mission Viejo for 2014.
Here’s in a nutshell how Esperanza’s rise took place.
First, the Crestview League with the Aztecs, Villa Park and Canyon of Anaheim is one of the best in Southern California. Those two teams were going to be led by big-time D1-bound pitchers — Sydney Somerndike of Villa Park (Arizona) and Kylee Magee of Canyon (Arizona State). While Somerndike was a standout all season, Magee contracted COVID-19 and had after-effects that prevented her from playing.
Esperanza senior pitcher Emily Gomez doesn’t have all of those D1 college offers, but she emerged as being as tough as any of the others. So with Gomez’s pitching to go along with a lineup led by Oklahoma-bound outfielder Hannah Coor, the Aztecs quickly established themselves as one of the best teams in the state. They won in their second game, 3-2 in 10 innings, over a Chino Hills squad that was No. 1 in MaxPreps’ national rankings and was No. 2 in the state.
Villa Park, meanwhile, also was playing well. The Spartans won in their first league matchup over Esperanza, 6-3, and were up near the top of the state rankings. The Aztecs began their own march to No. 1 by topping Villa Park, 1-0, in a rematch.
Entering the CIF Southern Section playoffs, a complicating factor in the rankings was that Esperanza would be in the D1 bracket while Villa Park was always going to be D2. The Aztecs also only drew the No. 4 seed in their bracket since officially they had a third loss. That one was a forfeit to Canyon when head coach Ed Tunstall didn’t have enough players due to a disciplinary action against several starters. Forfeits don’t count in the rankings, but that one helped put Esperanza on the same side of the bracket as top seed and then No. 1 in the state Norco. A game with the Cougars was then set up by winning CIFSS D1 playoff games over Newbury Park (7-3), La Serna of Whittier (13-0) and Murrieta Mesa of Murrieta (5-2 in 11 innings).
Just like playing a nationally ranked team early on like Chino Hills, playing Norco just did not faze Gomez and her teammates. Gomez gave up two early runs to the two-time defending CIFSS D1 champions, but nothing else. Coor blasted a two-run homer, which got the rest of the offense going. The final score was 7-2 and Norco’s 26-game win streak was over.
Tunstall still had to keep his squad ready to go and not overconfident in the final against a Roosevelt of Eastvale squad that had lost three times to Norco. Roosevelt battled, but in the end Esperanza came through again.
With two outs and no runners on base in a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the seventh, freshman Taylor Schumaker ripped a triple. Sophomore Audrey Robles was next and she hit an RBI single, allowing the winning run to score.
In a preview of the title game by the Orange County Register, Tunstall, who completed his 21 season of softball coaching, pointed out that eight different players either scored a run or drove in a run in the win against Norco. He had a mix of seniors like Gomez and Coor and younger players like Schumaker, Robles and sophomore Sharyn Duncan (three hits against Norco). He also credited junior pitcher Brooke Perez, who pitched some games when Gomez was injured in the middle of the season. In all, the team only allowed 38 runs in 24 games.
Upland and St. Francis of Mountain View were the only other teams that could offer a resume to come close to Esperanza for the final No. 1 ranking. The Highlanders went 25-2 and won the CIFSS D2 title over Villa Park. St. Francis finished 26-0 and won the CIF Central Coast Section Open Division title. Getting that one win over Norco (27-2), however, was the difference. One of Upland’s losses also was to that same Chino Hills team that the Aztecs beat so early on that gave them the jolt of confidence that carried them all the way to the finish.
In the future, with the calendar of the seasons hopefully switching back to more normal dates, there will be fully-pledged fields in not only the CIF SoCal regional playoffs but also in Northern California. The first-ever CIF state championships in softball didn’t happen this year, but they’re on the schedule for 2022.
Esperanza of 2021 therefore probably will be the last State Team of the Year in softball not completely decided on the field. We doubt that none of that will matter, though, to Tunstall, Gomez, Coor and the rest of the team’s players and coaches.
ALL-TIME CAL-HI SPORTS
SOFTBALL STATE TEAMS OF THE YEAR
(Selected by Cal-Hi Sports)
2021 – Anaheim Esperanza (22-2)*
2020 – No Selection
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)
*Forfeit loss not included.