It wasn’t that bad of a loss for the Norco High softball team last week to league rival Santiago (Corona, Calif.) but when there are teams from both Florida and Texas that could still potentially finish as unbeaten large-class state champions, then the Cougars do have to fall out of the No. 1 ranking they’ve had from the preseason in this week’s Extra Elite Eighty national rankings.
Norco fell in an extra-inning contest, 4-3, to Santiago (which for many years was the Cougars’ big rival in one of California’s toughest leagues and may be coming back to that level under head coach Jackie Sweet).
Norco had the bases loaded in the top of the eighth inning of the 3-3 game, but didn’t score and then in the bottom of the inning it was sophomore Kaylah Nelsen coming through for the Sharks with a two-out, walk-off game-winning hit.
Despite the loss, Norco stayed No. 1 in the CalHiSports.com state rankings, still in front of Extra Elite Eighty No. 4 Foothill (Pleasanton, Calif.). That’s because the Cougars still have titles from the Dave Kops Tournament of Champions in Arizona and the Michelle Carew Classic (California’s toughest tourney these days) and they’re still in first-place in the Big VIII League (including a previous win over Santiago).
The Cougars also still project to be a one-loss team winning the CIF Southern Section Division I title (which is the toughest playoff bracket in California and usually for the nation).
Moving up to No. 1 this week, in what was an easy decision, was previous No. 2 Lakewood Ranch (Bradenton, Fla.). Since the Florida state playoffs typically see many of the top teams winning titles in different divisions while in Texas it’s usually the best of the best all in the top class, there was consideration to moving previous No. 3 Cedar Ridge (Round Rock, Texas) up to No. 1 and leaving Lakewood Ranch at No. 2.
It was a great week for Lakewood Ranch, however, to play No. 6 Oakleaf (Orange Park, Fla.) in a showdown contest last Saturday in Gainesville. Head coach T.J. Goelz’s girls had to hold off a rally by Oakleaf, but won 5-4 and also survived a 14-inning affair earlier in the day vs. Gainesville, which has the ability to beat anybody in Florida when its ace pitcher, Alissa Humphrey, is on her game.
Against Oakleaf, junior pitcher Claire Davidson (Auburn) pitched well, but it was her two RBI singles that were perhaps more crucial for the Raiders to win. Avery Goelz (Florida) also had a game-tying RBI single and scored the go-ahead run in the fifth inning after stealing a base.
One of the strengths of Lakewood Ranch is that it’s a squad that can send two legit, D1-bound pitchers into the circle. That was shown earlier on Saturday when North Carolina State recruit Brooklyn Lucero had a three-hitter over the 14 innings against Gainesville and struck out 10 batters.
This week’s ranking also saw a re-shuffle in Texas, which had to be done since a previously unreported result of Katy having a win against Barbers Hill and not just being 0-1 against that team was uncovered. None of the changes were too drastic, but Katy was moved in front of other teams from the Houston area to match the local rankings. At the end of the day, no one in Texas will be surprised if Keller wins its third Class 5A state title in four years.
It’s also now finally reached that stage of the season when every state is playing high school softball. It’ll only be a couple more weeks until state playoffs begin in other places.
(Previous ranking in parentheses)
(Through games of Tuesday, April 16, 2019)
1. (2) Lakewood Ranch (Bradenton, Fla.) 19-0
2. (3) Cedar Ridge (Round Rock, Texas) 17-0
3. (1) Norco (Norco, Calif.) 25-1
4. (4) Foothill (Pleasanton, Calif.) 17-0
5. (5) Winter Springs (Winter Springs, Fla.) 21-0
6. (6) Oakleaf (Orange Park, Fla.) 18-2
7. (20) Katy (Katy, Texas) 21-2
8. (8) Keystone (LaGrange, Ohio) 12-0
9.. (10) Neshoba Central (Philadelphia, Miss.) 26-0
10. (7) Barbers Hill (Mt. Belvieu, Texas) 30-2