Mission Viejo's Taylor McQuillin pitches against South Hills in the semifinals of the CIF-SS Division 2 softball playoffs. McQuillin struck out 18 in the Diablos' 2-0 victory.

Mission Viejo back in final after McQuillin's 18-K effort


WEST COVINA - Together they form one of the most devastating one-two pitching combos on the travel ball circuit.

Friends and teammates outside of the high school ranks, Mission Viejo’s Taylor McQuillin and South Hills’ Natalie Lugo found themselves sharing the diamond as adversaries Tuesday with a spot in this weekend’s CIF-SS championship game up for grabs.

The Diablos senior was nearly perfect, striking out a season-high 18 batters and allowing just one hit in guiding Mission Viejo to a 2-0 win over South Hills of West Covina in a Division 2 semifinal Tuesday afternoon in front of a packed house at South Hills High.

The Diablos (30-0) will defend their Division 2 crown against Yucaipa on Friday or Saturday at Bill Barber Park in Irvine. (The date and time of the game will be announced Wednesday.) Mission Viejo has played the Thunderbirds twice this season, topping the division’s second-seeded team by one run at the Dave Kops Tournament of Champions and the Michelle Carew Classic.

“It’s the third time around, so there’s no secrets,” Mission Viejo coach Troy Ybarra said. “They know what they got to do. We know what we have to do to prepare, and it’s going to be a heck of a game.”

Leading the top-seeded Diablos back to championship weekend was McQuillin, who won her CIF-record 35th consecutive start. After a 10-pitch, three-strikeout first inning, it was apparent that the left-hander was in top-form against the Huskies.

McQuillin struck out the side in five of her seven innings and recorded the final nine outs via punch-outs.

“I felt really good today,” McQuillin said. “I told our team it was going to be a tough game because Nat was pitching. She’s a stellar pitcher and she’s my (travel ball) teammate, so I wasn’t going lie to my team and tell them she’s not good. Point blank, she’s really good, and they needed to know that.”

Lugo finished with 13 strikeouts and retired the first 10 batters she faced. Camryn Ybarra collected the game’s first hit with a single to left field in the fourth, and a throwing error by Lugo on a Kayleen Shafer sacrifice attempt put runners on first and second base.

When South Hills right fielder Sasha Allen was unable to handle Allison Harvey’s pop fly in the same inning, Ybarra came around and scored the game’s first run.

Freshman Terra McGowan doubled the Diablos’ lead in the seventh when she crushed an 0-2 pitch over the left-center field fence.

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