Pacifica Repeats As CIFSS Champion

Kaniya Bragg and Brynne Nally were two of the heroes for Pacifica of Garden Grove in its big win on Friday night over Orange Lutheran for the CIFSS D1 title. Photo: Harold Abend.

Whether they play on in the CIF SoCal regionals is for another day, so for now we’ll recap a major milestone accomplishment for the Pacifica of Garden Grove softball team. The Mariners’ win on Friday over Orange Lutheran in the CIF Southern Section D1 title game capped a great season and at the minimum puts them in the conversation to be the No. 1 team in the state & nation. We also have highlights from Paraclete of Lancaster’s win in the CIFSS D4 final with its legendary head coach.

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The CIF Southern Section Division 1 championship on Friday night at Deanna Manning Stadium in Irvine between top-seeded Orange Lutheran of Orange and defending champion and No. 2 seed Pacifica of Garden Grove had just about everything imaginable for a softball title game match-up in what many analysts
consider the top playoff division in the nation.

Played before a loud and raucous standing room only crowd estimated at over 2,500 fans, the rubber match of this season between the two teams started out as a classic pitcher’s duel, included some solid defense, and even had the long ball mixed in as well.

In the end, it was a Cal-Hi Sports’ No. 3 ranked Pacifica that came into the season No. 1 not only in the California preseason rankings but in the entire nation having the edge both in the circle and the batter’s box in a 3-0 victory over state No. 2 ranked Orange Lutheran of Orange. OLu also was the No. 1 seeded team in the bracket with the Mariners at No. 2.

It was a record ninth Southern Section title for Pacifica, and the Mariners were also the first team to win back-to-back championships since Norco won in 2018-19.

Long Beach State-committed senior pitcher Brynne Nally tossed a three-hitter with 11 strikeouts and two walks, and she did not allow an extra base hit. Nally did give up two hits and a walk in the first three innings, and she did have one tight spot to work out of in the top of the sixth, but by and large she was in control of the Orange Lutheran bats all night.

“Going into this game I was thinking just play my game, stay within myself, play the game like I know how to play, and play it like it’s my last game ever for Pacifica,” Nally said. “When we found out we were playing OLu, we knew it would be a dogfight because they’re a great team.”

Spectacular junior Kai Minor of Orange Lutheran chats with Pacifica head coach Tony Arduino following the CIFSS D1 final. Photo: James Escarcega / SGV Whittier Prep Sports Zone.

Pacifica (27-2) got all the runs it would need in the bottom of the fourth. Junior right fielder Micheala Meza singled to open the inning. UCLA-bound Kaniya Bragg then drew a four-pitch walk from Orange Lutheran pitcher Brianne Weiss to put runners on first and second. Delaina Maae, a UC Santa Barbara-committed senior, then hit a sacrifice fly to right advancing Meza to third. Next up was Cal State Fullerton-bound senior Annika Sogsti. She hit a popup to right field that didn’t appear deep enough to drive in the run, but Meza never hesitated and came flying down the line to just beat the tag at the plate. Senior Kayli Counts was the next batter and she smoked a double that hit off the right centerfield fence scoring Bragg and it was 2-0 Pacifica.

The highlight of the first three and a half innings came in the bottom of the second inning when Sogsti hit a high towering shot to left centerfield that appeared to be a home run, but Oklahoma-committed junior centerfielder Kai Minor came running at full speed, leaped high in the air and caught the ball after it was already three feet over the fence.

Orange Lutheran (21-4) had its one chance to touch up Nally in the sixth. Nally got the first out but then Lancers junior Olivia Oskorus singled. Senior Zoelle Gummeson came in to run for Oskorus and advanced to second on a walk to Minor. Senior Zara Mineo then hit a grounder to second and Minor almost beat the force but was called out leaving runners at first and third with one out. Sophomore Madelyn Armendariz followed Mineo and popped it up in foul territory. Pacifica’s junior third sacker Brooklyn Reyes came racing toward the fence near the third base dugout and made the catch just before nearly crashing into the fence to end the inning and the threat.

Pacifica answered that potential rally in the bottom of the sixth with an insurance run that came off the bat of Bragg when she launched a high towering drive that easily cleared the right centerfield fence and closed out the scoring. It was home run No. 8 for Bragg this season.

For good measure, Nally struck out the side in order in the top of the seventh to put her final stamp on the victory.

“Brynn was working both sides of the plate, in and out, screwballs, drop curves away. She has another gear, another level in big games,” said Pacifica head coach Tony Arduino, who won his second CIF Southern Section championships after guiding Pacifica to last year’s title. “There were a couple of times she called me off and I always tell her my pitch call is not the end all. I’d rather have you buy into the pitch you want to throw than throw something you don’t want to.”

For her part, Weiss pitched well against a team with as many bats as Pacific has. The senior Notre Dame-committed lefthander only gave up three hits with two walks and seven strikeouts.

“We knew we were going to be in position to be here but the road was very difficult this year,” Arduino remarked. “We started number one but we had to grind through the season and peak at the right time, and that’s exactly what they did just like last year.

“This year was special, particularly for our seniors,” Arduino continued. “They got us to the quarterfinals the first and second year, and this year, with a target on our backs all season, to win back-to-back is not easy to do it again.”

Earlier this season, the two teams split in tournament action with Pacifica winning the first game 3-0 and then losing to the Lancers 5-1 at the Michelle Carew Classic the day after they lost 2-1 to No. 5 ranked Canyon of Anaheim. Since then, Pacifica has won 12 straight games.

“Going into the Carew Classic we had won 25 straight games and I knew we weren’t going to be perfect all season,” Arduino remarked. “We needed those back-to-back losses.

“We were trying to be perfect all season and not lose, and we weren’t playing as aggressively as we should have been,” Arduino continued. “When we lost those two games we just took a deep breath and said, we’re not number one in the nation or perfect any longer, and let’s just go out and play our game, Mariners softball.”

The question now is will Pacifica accept what is almost assuredly a top seed in the CIF Southern Regional Division I playoffs and take the opportunity to regain the No. 1 position in the state it lost to St. Francis of Mountain View.

If St. Francis runs the table in the CIF Central Coast Section Open Division playoffs and then wins the CIF Northern Regional Division I championship with an unbeaten record it might be a moot point, but if that doesn’t happen that would leave the door open for Pacifica to reclaim the top ranking (whether it plays any more games this season or not).

“If the girls want to play I’m ready to coach them, so we’ll talk to them and see what they want to do and who wants to play,” said Arduino about whether Pacifica would move onto the regional playoffs or bypass them with underclass players leaving for travel ball.

Nally had talked about it being her last game for Pacifica but maybe it isn’t.

“I’m up for playing, and I’d be up for that, but that’s still a conversation we have to have with the rest of the team,” Nally said about the prospects of playing in the SoCals. “We have some incredibly talented juniors and this is an incredible summer for them to recruited, so we have to think about them.”

Margaret Neill has been the head softball coach at Paraclete since 1981 and on Friday she won her third CIF Southern Section title. She was our 2015 State Coach of the Year and is the second winningest head coach in state history. Photo: Paraclete High School /

Paraclete claims CIF Southern Section
Division 4 title

The first seven times veteran head coach Margaret Neill got her Paraclete team into a CIF Southern Section title game her girls lost, but since then the Spirits have won three straight championships.

After winning back-to-back titles in 2015-16 in Division 6, Paraclete (30-2) got bumped up two divisions since then and on Friday night the girls delivered a Southern Section Division 4 championship with a convincing 8-0 victory over J.W. North of Riverside.

Not only did the Spirits win a third section title for Neill, it also gave the second winningest coach in state history according to the Cal-Hi Sports Online Record Book career coaching win No. 865 since she took the Paraclete helm for the 1981 season.

“That’s what’s shocking to me. I never thought we would have gotten here moving up and moving up in league too, and playing so many good teams like Bishop Amat and St. Paul,” Neill said. “I thought we might have gotten third place in league, but here we are.

“They just kept proving me wrong and came through, thinking they could win every game,” Neill continued. “They played their hearts out and I’m just so proud of them.”

Spirits pitcher Jamie Sencion spun two-hit shutout with 11 strikeouts and five walks, and at the plate as a batter she had two singles in four at-bats.

Paraclete put it away early with a four-run second inning. The key hits were a double by Mally Tavai that drove in Shaylee Scripterm who had singled and Taylor Day, who walked, a double by Addison Vandecar that drove in Tavai, and a single by Mina Barriga that plated Vandecar.

J.W. North finishes the season with a 17-14 record.

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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