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Midseason stumble sparked Canyon's run to semifinals
The talent has always been there, but it was just five weeks ago when Canyon had little semblance of a CIF-SS Division 1 semifinalist, let alone a playoff team.
Back-to-back league losses to El Modena and Yorba Linda had the Comanches sitting third in the four-team Crestview League. As worrisome as their standing in league was their offense, or lack thereof.
“I don’t think the team had an identity yet,” explained Canyon coach Dan Hay, who watched his team score just two total runs against the Vanguards and Mustangs. “Even though we had beat Esperanza, I didn’t feel we played well and there were some signs of entitlement. They had to go through some bad times and a couple of losses to turn it up, and they’ve changed their approach.”
The Comanches have worked themselves out of the midseason slump, winning eight straight contests to get back to its second consecutive Division 1 semifinal. They will be at Norco High on Tuesday.
Since its last loss, on April 28, Canyon has outscored its opponents, 62-13, scoring 10 runs in four of those eight outings. Seniors Brianna Betschel, Paulina Anasis, Rachel DeHart and Hailey Hilburn have spearheaded the turnaround, raking the ball at the most important time of the season.
All four players are hitting over .420, and they’ve stayed hot against quality programs like Chino Hills and Los Alamitos.
“They’re peaking at right time,” Hay said. “These kids believe in their abilities. And when they play their brand of softball in between the lines, there’s not too many teams that can beat them.”
The Division 1 crown is up for grabs. With Canyon topping third-seeded Los Alamitos on Thursday and Norco taking out second-seeded Pacifica the same afternoon, all of the bracket’s top-four seeds have been eliminated. Looking back at the CIF archives, it is the first time in at least 15 years the final four does not feature at least one of the seeded squads.
Top-ranked Mission Viejo is two wins away from concluding the season with a perfect record, a CIF-SS championship and a wire-to-wire run as the nation’s top-ranked team.
The Diablos travel Tuesday to play at South Hills of West Covina. The Huskies feature Natalie Lugo – a Florida commit – who is one of the best pitchers Mission has seen this season. The Diablos counter with the CIF’s new all-time wins leader, Taylor McQuillin, who has tossed two consecutive shutouts in the playoffs.
“(Lugo) has been doing a heck of a job,” Mission Viejo coach Troy Ybarra said of South Hills’ sophomore ace. “I know she shut out Agoura last time out, and that’s pretty tough to do.”
ON THE SCHEDULE
The county has three other teams - Garden Grove, Savanna and Katella - playing semifinal games Tuesday.
In Division 5, Garden Grove will be at Alverno of Sierra Madre. In Division 6, Savanna hits the road to take on Cabrillo of Lompoc, while Katella will be home against second-seeded Paraclete.
The championship games will be played Friday and Saturday at Bill Barber Park in Irvine. The CIF-SS will release the schedule for the games Wednesday.
O.C. SHOWING IN OKC
The Women’s College World Series concludes this week in Oklahoma City with Michigan and Florida playing a best-of-three series for the national title. The Wolverines and Gators both boast Orange County players on their roster.
Haylie Wagner (El Modena), Amanda Vargas (Tesoro), Tera Blanco (Marina) and Taylor Swearingen (Canyon) give Michigan more O.C. players than any other team at the WCWS. Florida has a pair of locals, Aubree Munro (Brea Olinda) and Nicole DeWitt (Pacifica).
Blanco, Swearingen and DeWitt were first-team All-County selections in 2014.
In total, 17 former county stars made their way to Oklahoma City this season.
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