California doesn’t have state championships in softball, so this weekend’s CIF Southern Section Division I championship between nationally ranked Norco and Great Oak of Temecula will be the first step toward determining this year’s mythical national title.
Norco, which was preseason No. 1 in the Extra Elite Eighty, advanced to its section final in California with a 7-2 victory on Tuesday over Huntington Beach. Facing a team that had posted several upsets to get to the semifinals, the Cougars pulled away in the later innings after trailing 2-1 entering the fifth inning.
Great Oak, with a roster filled with top younger players and devoid of many seniors, earned its first-ever trip to the CIFSS D1 finals with a 12-4 victory on Tuesday over Gahr of Cerritos.
If Norco wins in Saturday’s final, head coach Rick Robinson’s team would make it simple in the race for national No. 1. Although some might still crown Norco No. 1 regardless and at least one computer ranking would do that, the Cougars do have one loss and the possibility of there being an unbeaten Class 8A state champion in Florida is still very much alive.
Both national No. 1 Lakewood Ranch and national No. 2 Winter Springs won in Tuesday’s regional semifinals in Florida and remain on track to possibly play each other for the state title. Lakewood Ranch blew past East Lake (Tarpon Springs, Fla.) 10-0 with a nine-run second inning.
Leadoff hitter Avery Goelz went 2-for-3 with a double and three RBI while Taylor Woodring homered for Lakewood Ranch. Winter Springs had a more difficult game in getting past Hagerty (Oviedo, Fla). Briana Driscoll and Kennedi Gaton both led the way with two RBI each.
The Florida Class 8A state championship, however, will not be determined until the following weekend after Norco’s season is complete. Lakewood Ranch plays next against Sickles (Tampa, Fla.) while Extra Elight Eighty No. 17 Wellington will be the foe for Winter Springs. The final four teams in that bracket would then play a game on Friday, May 24 with the championship game taking place the next day.
If Norco were to get upset by Great Oak in its final game and neither of the two unbeaten teams win the Florida Class 8A crown, the next team in line for national No. 1 appears to be unbeaten Foothill (Pleasanton, Calif.), which has been the No. 1 team in Northern California all season long. Foothill is in the CIF North Coast Section and its championship game would be Saturday, May 25.
Several other states have wrapped up championship brackets in the last several days.
On Monday, previous national No. 11 Pinnacle (Phoenix, Ariz.) was upset in the Arizona Class 6A state championship, 6-4, by Sandra Day O’Connor (Phoenix, Ariz.). Head coach Melissa Hobson’s club had lost in two earlier matchups with Pinnacle, but scored four times in the first inning and held on for the win behind the gritty pitching of Danielle Wilson.
In most cases, teams that win in the state final are going to be ranked higher than the teams that lose in a state final despite earlier results. O’Connor therefore was jumped up into this week’s Extra Elite Eighty to a position right in front of Pinnacle.
(Previous ranking in parentheses)
(Through games of Tuesday, May 14)
1. (1) Lakewood Ranch (Bradenton, Fla.) 28-0
2. (2) Winter Springs (Winter Springs, Fla.) 28-0
3. (3) Norco (Norco, Calif.) 30-1
4. (4) Foothill (Pleasanton, Calif.) 25-0
5. (5) Katy (Katy, Texas) 31-2
6. (6) Klein Collins (Klein, Texas) 34-2
7. (7) Keystone (LaGrange, Ohio) 25-0
8. (8) Coral Springs Charter (Coral Springs, Fla.) 26-1
9. (9) Keller (Keller, Texas) 31-3-1
10. (10) Male (Louisville, Ky.) 26-0