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New stars try to finish Mission Viejo's mission
MISSION VIEJO – Kyra Snyder knew exactly where the question was headed and jumped right in with a firm, “Definitely.”
Did a team without Alyssa Palomino and Taylor McQuillin feel the need to prove its worth?
In Palomino and McQuillin, Mission Viejo housed Orange County’s all-time leaders in home runs and career wins for a four-year span, and the program rose from county relevance to national prominence.
“They’re two of the best players in the nation,” Snyder said. “But we can’t rely on them anymore. We’re the ones who have to come out and fight now.”
The Diablos were always more than a single power bat and one power arm. While it might have taken others some time to accept that, Mission Viejo’s unsung heroes of years past have flourished in the spotlight this season.
With Palomino and McQuillin now in college, this next wave of Diablos talent is driving the team’s success. They will try to put the finishing touch on their own legacy Friday when they face Valley View of Moreno Valley in the CIF-SS Division 2 championship game at Bill Barber Park in Irvine at 7 p.m.
“A lot of people came out thinking, ‘They lost their two players, it’s going to be easier (to beat them) this year,’” Snyder said. “That was the fuel we needed to keep our energy up and play as a team in the field. I feel like we’ve all bonded over that.”
There’s a sizable chip on every shoulder in the Mission Viejo dugout, and no one hides that fact. After Mission Viejo’s loss to Yucaipa in last year’s Division 2 final, this group was confident it had the returning talent to take the team to the final for the third consecutive year.
While the naysayers discounted them, the Diablos took the field with a swagger, starting with their 9-1 season-opening win over Kennedy.
Snyder and senior right-hander Hanna Nilsen only saw a handful of innings in the pitching circle the past few campaigns while backing up McQuillin, but the duo has pitched at a championship level this spring, boasting a combined ERA well below 2.00.
The Diablos continued to hit like they have in the past, providing six-plus runs of support per game for the fourth consecutive season.
Junior Camryn Ybarra thrived as the team’s new leadoff hitter – Palomino’s old spot – and raised her batting average to .522 during the regular season. The third baseman has taken her game to another level the past three weeks, launching five home runs in four playoff games.
“I’ve improved a lot since my freshman year, and I’ve just wanted to follow in Alyssa’s footsteps,” Ybarra said. “I look up to her. But I want to be the best on the team and want to lead everyone off.”
In four playoff games, Mission Viejo has scored 32 runs and hit 10 home runs, spread out among Ybarra, Nilsen, Terra McGowan and Bella Loya. Throw in Olivia Viggiano and Allison Harvey in the two-three slots in the lineup, and the Diablos have a new recipe for a CIF-SS championship contender.
“I feel like we play more as a team now because we can’t rely on Alyssa to get that big hit, or Taylor to get that big out,” McGowan said. “We’re more focused and into the game now because we know we all have a bigger role to play.”
Even with Palomino and McQuillin in the lineup last June, the Diablos lost to Yucaipa in the final, ruining their bid for the title and an unbeaten season.
The Diablos ran into Yucaipa, which still had all of its starters from last season, in this year’s quarterfinals and pummeled them, 11-5. It gave Mission Viejo’s players a feeling of redemption, but their ultimate goal is to win the title.
Doing so when they weren’t necessarily thought of as contenders? That’s been the underlying motivator since Day 1.
“With these kids, I’ve coached a lot of them in 10-U, 12-U, 14-U,” Mission coach Troy Ybarra said. “I’ve coached Hanna since she was 10, Harvey since she as 8. Kyra, Terra, Sammy (Dees), Cam, all of them. It’s a team that plays together and knows what each other can do. And they’ve put it together at the right time.”
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