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SAM GANGWER , STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Kennedy's Rachel Poirier connects for a long fly ball against Valencia.

Kennedy enjoys its success 'a year ahead'

STAFF WRITER

At this stage of the softball season, Kennedy essentially is playing with house money.

Having hovered around .500 all season and trotting out a lineup without any seniors in it, the Fighting Irish – the No. 3 representative from the Empire League – pulled off one of the biggest shockers in the first round of the CIF-SS softball playoffs last week.

Kennedy went on the road and knocked off sixth-seeded Santiago of Corona, 3-2, in Division 1.

Kennedy erased a two-run deficit with a three-run sixth inning, highlighted by Makenna Komoda’s two-run single that put the Fighting Irish on top for good.

Kennedy advanced to the second round for the first time since 2011.

“We’re actually a year ahead of where we want to be,” Coach Don Harper said. “Everybody I have on the field will be back next year. It’s nice to continue winning, and we’ll battle and put everything on the table. We’re just so young, I don’t think we know any better.”

It’s not the first time this season the Fighting Irish have played the role of spoiler. In the opening round of the Michelle Carew Classic, Kennedy knocked off the defending CIF-SS Division 1 champ, Norco.

The Fighting Irish also earned wins over Lakewood and Yorba Linda.

They had one-run losses to two county top-10 teams Cypress and Capistrano Valley.

“We haven’t played any slouches in any of our games,” Harper said. “Everybody that we’ve played – minus one or two teams – made CIF (playoffs). That’s really helped.”

Kennedy (14-13) will look to keep its run alive Tuesday when plays at Vista Murrieta (17-7).

SHOWING ITS DEPTH

Three Orange County leagues went unbeaten in the first round of the playoffs. The Empire and Sunset leagues each compiled 3-0 clips in Division 1, while the South Coast League went 4-0 in Division 2.

Quality and depth in each of the three leagues seemingly paid dividends in pressure-filled situations.

Huntington Beach, Edison, Cypress and Kennedy each found a way to win one-run games in the Division 1 bracket. Dana Hills survived a one-run affair in Division 2, while Aliso Niguel needed extra innings to escape Sonora.

The Trinity League also saw at least three of its teams advance. Orange Lutheran, Santa Margarita and Mater Dei will play Tuesday, while at-large entrant, Rosary, had its season end with a 5-1 loss to Chino.

BRIMMING WITH BACKSTOPS

No position in Orange County is as loaded as catcher this season.

The starters for the top-seven ranked teams in the county: Lauren Espalin (Orange Lutheran), Mary Iakopo (Los Alamitos), Terra McGowan (Mission Viejo), Nikki Butler (La Habra), Dejah Mulipola (Pacifica), Priscilla Martinez (Mater Dei) and Anna Kufta (Huntington Beach).

In the opening round of the playoffs, Espalin, Iakopo and McGowan all homered. Mulipola and Kufta each tallied multiple hits, and Butler and Martinez helped in shutout efforts.

Not a bad start for the county’s deepest position.

KEEPING IT IN THE COUNTY

The Division 1 game between second-seeded Orange Lutheran and Cypress on Tuesday is the only county-vs.-county game in the second round.

There could be a lot more of those matchups Thursday. With the county having nine of the 16 squads remaining in Division 1, an all-O.C. final eight is unlikely but it’s possible.

A La Habra-Capistrano Valley showdown is the likeliest county-versus-county scenario in Division 2, but both O.C. top-10 teams must survive road tests Tuesday.

Contact the writer: kconnolly@ocregister.com


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