There is a popular saying in softball: “It all starts and ends on the mound.” This is especially true in high school, with California still pitching at 40 feet. The teams listed below were ranked using last season’s ending rank as its starting point. We then looked at each team’s pitching, followed by an in-depth analysis of the roster and its ability to score runs against strong competition. All of the top 10 teams share in one common denominator: Each has an elite pitcher that is nearly unhittable when she is on the mound.
1. Pleasant Grove (Elk Grove), 26-5
The reigning Division I champions from the highly competitive San Joaquin Section have to start the season near the top due to UCLA-bound pitcher Ally Carda and UCLA-bound third baseman Alyssa Tiumalu. The biggest challenge for this year’s Eagles team will be finding suitable replacements for its two former speedsters that accounted for nearly one-third of last year’s runs and stolen bases.
2. Etiwanda, 29-2
With two high-caliber pitchers, Natalee Pulver and Melissa Taukeiaho, returning to the mound, having a skilled defense to back them up and sending an incredibly balanced offense to the plate every inning, the Eagles will be the team to beat in the CIF-Southern Section this season.
3. Vista Murrieta (Murrieta), 27-5
The Broncos could have easily been the top team in the preseason rankings with the ultra-talented Edwards twins returning for their final high school season. Tatum Edwards has total command on the mound while sister Taylor conducts from behind the plate. Last season, the two sisters combined for nearly 90 RBI.
4. Canyon (Anaheim), 24-8
Last year, Canyon was a contender with its talented, but young roster. The team played in the Faster-to-First championship game last year, only losing to the top team in the nation at that time, Sheldon. Led by pitcher Cheyanne Tarango, the Comanches have a very talented roster, which is older and stronger than last year. Barring unexpected injuries, this team will probably be playing on the last day of the CIF-Southern Section playoffs this year.
5. Oak Ridge (El Dorado Hills), 24-4-1
The Trojans are the three-time defending Division II champions from the San Joaquin Section. On the mound, the team is led by Washington-bound junior Kasey Stanchek, who was nearly unhittable last season while posting over 275 strikeouts. Backing up Kasey is a seemingly endless supply of talent that shows up year after year, with this season being no exception. This year’s Trojan team could be the quickest they have ever fielded.
6. Mater Dei (Santa Ana), 20-5-1
It is hard to ignore this Division I powerhouse in any preseason ranking, in any sport. Mater Dei under-performed in last season’s playoffs and is on a mission to show the rest of the section that they are force to be reckoned with. Led by the Arizona-committed sophomore pitcher Brianne Matthews, the Monarchs should continue to rise for the next three seasons. Expect this team to be playing deep in the playoffs this year and most likely, on the last day.
7. Rancho Bernardo (San Diego), 26-7
Throughout the decade, the Broncos always seem to be playing late in May. This year’s squad looks no different than those of years past. Led by returning pitcher and offensive power Laura Winter, the Broncos should put up some impressive numbers this season. They are the team to beat in the San Diego region.
8. Valencia, 25-7
The tradition of winning it all was interrupted last season with a disappointing loss in the Southern Section Division I playoffs last season. Led by two returning pitchers, Carly Mortensen and Sarah Enriquez, and a largely unchanged defense behind them, this team has all of the components to regain the Division I championship back. Last year’s young team proved at the top tournaments that it can compete with anyone. This year’s Viking team will probably raise the bar significantly.
9. Rodriguez (Fairfield), 22-8
When you talk to coaches about the top teams in NorCal, Rodriquez always seems be included in the conversation. With nearly all of the starting nine returning, including one of the top shortstops in the area, Cheyenne Cordes, the Mustangs should easily win the Division III section championship this year. But the team has set loftier goals for itself by scheduling themselves in most of the top tournaments in the state. This team can compete with anyone and they are out to prove it this year.
10. Poly (Riverside), 24-9
The Bears are poised to take over the Big VIII league this year as Norco and Santiago have each lost their star pitchers to graduation. Junior pitcher Desiree Ybarra will shoulder most of the load on the mound and should win another 20 games this season. This team is expected to be playing deep into the playoffs, if not win their section entirely.
Teams to watch
Archbishop Mitty (San Jose), Tesoro (Rancho Santa Margarita), Santiago (Corona), Elk Grove, Ayala (Chino Hills), Foothill (Tustin), Livermore, Norco, Sheldon (Sacramento), Poway