Softball: Canyon Wins Carew

Kylee McGee (left) pitched Canyon of Anaheim to the championship of the Michelle Carew Classic. At right is teammate Skye Limardo, who launched huge three-run homer vs St. Francis of Mountain View. Photo: Harold Abend.

Host school from Anaheim takes title in prestigious tourney on Saturday that began with state’s No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams. We’re still sorting out all of the ramifications for the next set of rankings, but for now it’s a giant tip of the cap to a team and a pitcher who have gone through so much in the last two years.

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After a two-year hiatus due to COVID wiping out the tournament, the Michelle Carew Classic is back, and the top softball tournament in the state, and some feel in the nation, had a very memorable ending.

On the 37th anniversary of the tournament and 23rd time it has been played as the Michelle Carew Classic, the long wait for tournament’s host school is over.

In front of a packed house on Saturday night at Peralta Park in Anaheim, the largest in the history of the tournament according to tournament director and Southern California softball legend Lance Eddy, and in an all Orange County championship title game, Canyon of Anaheim (18-3) ended a 21-year drought with a come from behind 2-1 victory over Lutheran of Orange in the Gold Bracket championship.

The last time the Comanches won the tournament it was only in its fourth year of being the Michelle Carew Classic. Prior to that the tournament was called the Canyon Tournament of Champions. It was not until 1997, a year after Michelle Carew died from a rare form of Leukemia, that the tournament was re-named in her memory. Carew, the daughter of Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew, played for Canyon in high school.

Orange Lutheran’s threesome who all earned All-Tournament honors were Kiki Estrada, Brianne Weiss and Kai Minor. Photo: @OLuSoftball /

“We’re excited to have all this happen here in Anaheim and that we get to do it, especially being part of the Carew family members,” said Canyon head coach Jess Carbajal.

“I can’t tell you how many times we played in this tournament and we were not there yet, but today was our day,” Carbajal continued. “This group of kids has done what no one else has done in a long time.”

Trailing 1-0 in the top of the sixth inning, senior leadoff batter Annabella Fraser led off with a double. Freshman Sam Gresham walked and then junior Skye Limardo, the hero of the 3-2 semifinal upset victory over St. Francis (Mountain View) with her three-run home run, laid down a perfect bunt moving Fraser to third and Gresham to second. Arizona State-bound senior pitcher Kylee Magee was then intentionally walked to load the bases.

Up stepped sophomore Paloma Saenz in what looked like the perfect spot for a squeeze play, and that’s exactly what Carbajal called. Just like Limardo did, Saenz bunted up the first base line and the ball was fielded by the first baseman but the throw home got away from the catcher and Fraser scored the tying run. With the ball rolling away from home plate toward third base, Gresham then came flying home with the go ahead run that proved to be the winner.

Even with the lead, Magee and the Comanches had to get six more outs to record the victory. No problem. Magee, who struck out 14 in the upset of Cal-Hi Sports state No. 2 St. Francis, struck out the side in the bottom of the sixth inning. After the Comanches went in order in the top of the seventh, Magee took the circle in the bottom half of the inning needing the final three outs. She got the leadoff batter on a come-backer, and then as if it was scripted, Magee got strikeout Nos. 16 and 17 to end the game and sent the crowd into a frenzy.

Magee ended one of the greatest final day pitching performances in the history of the Michelle Carew Classic with a four-hitter and two walks to go with the 17 she fanned.

The championship game that was scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. didn’t get started until almost 8:30. That followed the 11:00 a.m. semifinals.

In the Canyon semifinal win, Magee gave up a two-run home run to Minnesota-bound St. Francis star Jessica Oakland in the bottom of the first, but from there the Lancers could not score again. Leading 2-0 in the bottom of the second it was looking like St. Francis might blow it open after loading the bases with two outs, however it was at that point that Magee may have been at her finest.

First, she struck out Oakland. Up stepped Washington-bound Sydney Stewart. The senior catcher and first baseman already had dazzled the Carew crowd with a high, arching near 300-foot grand slam home run to left on Thursday, and then in a 4-3 quarterfinal victory on Friday, she beat state No. 15 ranked Los Alamitos with a three-run home run to the opposite field that was like a frozen rope and just cleared the right field fence. For this at-bat, Magee had the answer. With a fastball that hits a high of around 60 but with a lot of movement, this time she went to an off speed pitch and Stewart stood looking dazed at called strike three.

Sydney Stewart’s home runs for St. Francis were no doubt bombs. Photo: Harold Abend.

“I don’t think she (Stewart) was looking for that pitch and I was able to sneak it by her,” Magee said with a huge grin. “Their other big hitter (Oakland) hit what I thought was a good pitch, but I didn’t throw her that one again.”

“Yes, I’m feeling it,” Magee continued. “In both of these games they’ve gotten ahead in the first inning and that’s on me, but my team had my back and we were able to score later in the game. Maybe people will start to know who we are now.”

In the top of the second, Limardo got a hold of a fat pitch and hit a no-doubt three-run home run and from there Magee took over. From that point on, she retired 12 of 13 batters in the six-inning timed out victory with only a walk in the last four innings. Magee put an exclamation mark on her 14-strikeout performance by fanning the final three Lancers. Magee finished with a three-hitter with three walks and a hit batter to go with the whiffs.

Add it all up and Magee gave up seven hits and five bases on balls with one hit batter and 31 strikeouts in two tournament wins, and not just any tournament but against the nation’s top talent.

According to Eddy, the performance by Magee harkened back to the days of Lisa Fernandez and Michelle Granger, two of the all-time greatest high school softball players, who both graced the tournament in years past. And to think, she really only played less than two games last season.

“Last year, Kylie went down with COVID and she was a long hauler,” Carbajal said. “She tried, she fought and fought but just couldn’t do it and it broke our heart to see her down.”

“We tried and we won some games but we weren’t the same team,” Carbajal continued. “Now having her back, she’s a tremendous human being and a tremendous leader and she’s just picked up this team to a different level.”

The was no question Magee was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Pitcher. Fraser was named Co-Most Valuable Player while Saenz and Limardo were chosen for the All Tournament team.

Orange Lutheran (15-7), which dropped out of the state rankings last week at 11-6, punched its ticket to the championship game with a 6-3 win over perennial power Norco.

Senior Kiki Estrada had a home run, a double, and two walks with three RBI and two runs scored. Freshman sensation Kai Minor, who had a single, stolen base and a run scored in the title game loss to Canyon, had three hits, stole a base and scored twice. Sophomore pitcher Brianne Weiss tossed a four-hitter with 10 strikeouts.

Minor was named Co-Most Valuable Player and Estrada was named All Tournament as was Weiss. Weiss actually pitched very well in the title game. Until Canyon touched her up in the sixth inning, she was rolling along with a no-hitter with a hit batter and a base on balls. She finished pitching a one-hitter with 13 strikeouts, three walks and the hit batter.

St. Francis (9-1) rebounded from the loss to Canyon to win the third-place game in a slugfest that produced an 11-6 victory over Norco. Complete details from the game were not yet available but we do know that St. Francis trailed early, took the lead on a three-run home run by Oakland and never trailed again.

For the four games prior to the third-place game, an 8-0 four-inning win over Long Beach Millikan, a 10-0 five-inning victory against Anaheim Esperanza and the 4-3 quarterfinal victory over Los Alamitos, Oakland was 6-for-10 with a home run, two doubles, two walks, six RBI and five runs scored. Stewart only had three hits but two were home runs, including the grand slam which came against Esperanza, five walks, nine RBI and four runs scored. Both were named All Tournament. St. Francis came into the tourney unbeaten and also was unbeaten last spring in the CIF Central Coast Section. Anyone thinking the Lancers fell on their face against what they know is the best competition there is would be wrong. Unless beating Los Alamitos and Norco doesn’t matter.

Mya Perez of Norco is about to hit this pitch for her 10th homer of the season during the Michelle Carew Classic. Photo: Harold Abend.

What happened to Villa Park & more teams

After losing to St. Francis in the quarterfinals, Los Alamitos (16-5) rebounded with a 9-3 victory over South Torrance and then the Griffins defeated Centennial (Las Vegas, Nevada) 9-4 in the fifth-place game. In the Centennial win, junior Giselle Alvarez had a double and scored in a three run first inning and then hit a solo home run in the bottom of the second that gave the Griffins a 5-1 lead. Alvarez, along with sophomore Isabella Rodriguez, were named All Tournament.

The Silver Bracket title game was for teams that lost in the first game but won their next three and in that contest Cathedral Catholic of San Diego (10-5-1) came back from a 3-2 deficit to score the game’s last three runs in a 6-3 victory over Grand Terrace. The Dons hit two home runs in the game, an inside the park solo round-tripper by speedy sophomore Sereniti Trice and a solo shot by senior Ab’C’De Patane. Trice and sophomore pitcher Candace Tarle were named All Tournament.

Villa Park (17-2) came into the game ranked No. 1 in the last Cal-Hi Sports rankings and No. 1 in the Extra Inning Elite 80 national rankings. The way things were set it was supposed to be Villa Park and St. Francis in the title game but both lost, with Villa Park the first to go down.

The Spartans won their first game 9-3 over Cypress but then they suffered some misfortune. Leading previous No. 15 ranked Beaumont 1-0 in the bottom of the fifth, senior starting pitcher Sydney Somerndike sprained her ankle in the circle and had to come out. Freshman Auddrey Lira came on and retired four of the five batters she faced to close out a 1-0 victory. However, on Saturday, Lira and Villa Park lost both games, including a 3-2 heartbreaker to Orange Lutheran. The Spartans rebounded to beat South Torrance 10-1 in the seventh-place game.

One person can’t possibly cover three games going on at the same time and with the quarterfinals and semifinals all being played at the same time. Still, one of the teams in last week’s state rankings that impressed us was a young Beaumont group. The Cougars gave Villa Park all it could handle in the 1-0 loss. After the loss, coaches didn’t pitch sophomore standout Cambria Salmon and lost big to Vista Murrieta, but she came back to shut out El Modena (Orange) 8-0 in a 5-inning one hitter with 13 strikeouts. Salmon closed out the Carew with a five-hitter with 10 fanned in a 4-2 victory over Esperanza.

Salmon, along with freshman Keali Huss-Cochran, were named All Tournament.

Another player covered who was impressive as a hitter was reigning State Sophomore of the Year Mya Perez of Norco. In a 9-1 win over Grand Terrace, she hit a two-run home run, her 10th round-tripper of the season. The muscular Perez didn’t even get a full swing on the home run ball but even when she pops one up it can get out with her strength.

“I thought it was a pop fly,” said Perez with a huge grin. “I didn’t think I got it all and as I ran to first base I said to myself, ‘Dang, I just missed that’ but it still went out.”

Perez and Alyssa Hovermale from Norco both were selected All Tournament.

Other All Tournament selections (California teams): Villa Park – Bri Kang and Bethany Spurr; Long Beach Millikan – Arianna Ramerez; Marina (Huntington Beach) – Haylee Orozco; Grand Terrace – Jaden Colunga; El Camino (Woodland Hills) – Sofia Fisher; Vista Murrieta (Murrieta) – Kennedy Delmott; South Torrance – Devin Elam; Upland – Paige Cowley; Chino Hills – Samantha Bland.

After all was said and done, however, this Michelle Carew Classic belonged to the Canyon team and community.

“Putting the tournament on is an honor and we think about that every year,” Carbajal said in conclusion. “We think about this young woman that played at Canyon. She’s one of our heroes and we keep fighting to put this on every year in her honor. To be actually in it, to play with 31 other teams that are the best of the best this side of the Mississippi, and to come on top, that’s a pretty darn special feeling.”

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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