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Mission Viejo driven to be the perfect team
Mission Viejo center fielder Alyssa Palomino led off the 2015 season with a sharp hit single to center field.
The county’s two-time Player of the Year proceeded to steal second base, advanced to third on a wild pitch before scoring seconds later on a sac fly from Camryn Ybarra.
Eighteen hits and 16 runs later, Mission Viejo’s first win of the year came by way of a 17-0 blowout over a San Clemente team that has since strung together a handful of wins over quality county opponents.
“The girls were putting the bat on the ball right away and it was base hit, base hit, base hit,” Diablos coach Troy Ybarra explained. “They were ready to go.”
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The Mission Viejo lineup is no joke. Eight starters will be playing at major college programs in the coming years, and headlining that talented core is Palomino, who holds the two county record for home runs in a season (18), and gifted southpaw Taylor McQuillin, the reigning Gatorade national player of the year.
Mix its depth with talent and championship experience, and the Diablos begin the season atop the Orange County softball landscape.
“No. 1 is nice,” Ybarra said. “Who doesn’t want to be No. 1? We’re proud of that number, but at the same time, we know it’s a ranking and these things tend to fluctuate. … I don’t know of a team that’s ever started the year at No. 1 and stayed there throughout the season. That’s the hardest thing to do, come out as the No. 1 team.”
The Diablos finished the 2014 season as CIF-SS Division 2 champs. Mission Viejo compiled a 26-1 overall record, and only a late regular-season loss to Pacifica separated the Diablos from a perfect record.
An unblemished season is certainly not out of the question for this year’s squad, but you’ll never hear them discuss such a feat.
“The process is the same with us,” Ybarra continued. “At the beginning of every year, we start off with a set of goals. It starts with making the playoffs. Then it’s winning our league. Then it’s making a run in CIF.
“But even deeper than that, we want to win every single inning. If a team gets one hit, we have to get two. That way, you win the momentum and the energy and you’re never overwhelmed.”
While the goal is undoubtedly to repeat as CIF champs, there’s plenty to keep an eye on with this Diablos bunch along the way. Palomino broke the county record for career home runs Friday by hitting two home runs - giving her 47 - in the Tournament of Champions in Arizona. She surpassed the 46 hit by former El Toro standout Lauren Chamberlain.
In the circle, McQuillin will look to somehow top a 25-win season in which she struck out 316 batters.
“It’s not just the accolades with those two,” Ybarra said. “Along with Kayleen Shafer and Bailey Roberson, we have four seniors who lead by example. They’re diving at practice, pitching hard, always playing with effort. That sets the tone for the rest of the team.”
With those seniors at the forefront, the Diablos will have a target on their back every time they step onto the diamond. If we know anything, though, they’ll certainly be up for the challenge.
THE RAKING REBELS
In addition to Mission Viejo, the only other county squad ranked atop the latest CIF divisional poll was Savanna.
The Rebels, who advanced to the Division 5 semifinals in 2014, started the season at No. 1 in Division 6 and has remained there thanks to a 6-0 start. Coach Mike Willey’s club has outscored its opponents by 46 runs.
Savanna returns all nine starters from last season’s 26-3 team that made the deepest postseason run in school history.
In Jezabelle Quintana and Kristin Worley, the Rebels have the Orange League’s top pitcher and positional player. If that tandem can continue to produce at such a high level, Savanna could very well make its first-ever trip to a CIF championship game.
Get used to hearing about the Rebels. Not one of their starters is a senior.
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