A little something may be at stake in the Southern Section softball playoffs this year: the pride of Orange County softball.
Last year, three Orange County teams made it to Southern Section finals. But not one won a championship, marking the first time in three years that no county school won a division title.
In 1984, Kennedy (4-A), Fullerton (3-A) and Rosary (1-A) won titles. In 1985, Ocean View (4-A) and Garden Grove (3-A) won. But last year, Fountain Valley lost to St. Joseph in the 4-A final, Woodbridge lost to Crescenta Valley in the 3-A final and El Toro lost to Arroyo in the 2-A final.
The county's best chances this year are Garden Grove, Laguna Hills, Sunny Hills and Woodbridge, each of which is seeded among the top four in their division.
A look at the divisional pairings:
Defending champion St. Joseph (14-2) is the top-seeded team, and well-regarded Gahr (17-3) is second. Righetti (23-2) is third, and Newbury Park (21-4) fourth. So the eight county teams, all unseeded, will have to fight through the brackets.
Cypress (17-8), which is in St. Joseph's quarter of the bracket, plays at Burbank (17-3) in the first round Thursday. The Centurions are led by senior pitcher Nicky Luce, a Times' first-team All-County selection last season who has pitched four no-hitters, including a perfect game, this season.
County teams play against each other in two first-round games. Edison, led by junior pitcher Terry Carpenter (17-5) plays at Empire League champion Los Alamitos, led by Kelli Moore, who is batting .524. Mater Dei (14-11) is at Kennedy (15-11).
Three more Sunset League teams round the county entries: Marina (16-6), Fountain Valley (17-9) and Ocean View (13-11), which won an at-large berth as the fourth Sunset League entry.
If Garden Grove Coach Paula Cervantes were doing the seeding, the Sunny Hills Lancers would not be second. They would be first.
"I think Sunny Hills is one of the best teams around," said Cervantes, whose team is No. 4.
Cervantes said she thinks No. 1 Crescenta Valley (20-2), the defending champion, is overrated, particularly after watching two Falcon losses in the Woodbridge tournament.
For her part, though, Sunny Hills Coach Cathy Williams is pleased with the draw.
"I'm really happy with the bracketing," Williams said. "I feel like it's a good draw."
Six county teams are in the Lancers' quarter of the draw: Century League champion Santa Ana (12-6), Magnolia (12-8), Sea View League champion University (19-2), Buena Park (12-9), Los Amigos (17-12) and Villa Park (17-8).
The Lancers (22-5), have a nine-game winning streak and are led by pitcher Ruby Flores (13-2), who has two no-hitters including a perfect game, and Catherine Steadman, who is batting .360.
Should Sunny Hills--which plays host to Villa Park in the first round--advance to a quarterfinal game against third-seeded La Mirada, the seniors on the team will play against their former coach, Patty Gasso, who coached the team when they were sophomores.
Cervantes was pleasantly surprised to be fourth, but disappointed to see that the Argonauts (17-8) could meet Valencia (19-7) as soon as the quarterfinals. Valencia is led by pitching phenom Michele Granger, who this season set a Southern Section record for career no-hitters. Garden Grove edged Valencia, 1-0, on a tiebreaker in extra innings in the only game between the teams this season.
"I was really hoping we didn't have to see them until later," Cervantes said.
Garden Grove is led by pitcher Tammie Flores (11-7), who has pitched six straight shutouts, and shortstop Marian Mendoza, who is batting .404. Catcher Elaine Allen and freshman Stephanie Smith are both hitting better than .350 for the Argonauts.
Garden Grove and Valencia both drew wild-card winners in the first round.
Other county teams are Sonora (16-10), Foothill (11-11) and Saddleback (11-9).
Brea-Olinda and either La Quinta or Estancia have a chance to enter the main draw by winning wild-card games.
Anyway you look at it, the Pacific Coast League comes out looking good in this one.
Laguna Hills (20-6) and Woodbridge (14-6) tied for the league title with 9-1 records after splitting their two games this season.
Laguna Hills won a coin toss to earn the first league spot, and ended up seeded second. Woodbridge was hardly hurt--the Warriors took the fourth seed.
Top-seeded La Serna (20-0), the Whitmont League champion, will play Orange in the first round. Camino Real League champion Mary Star (16-5) is seeded third.
"We're playing real well," said Cliff Jarmie, Laguna Hills coach. Last week, the Hawks defeated Woodbridge, scoring two earned runs off pitcher Tiffany Boyd, who has an 11-6 record and a 0.11 earned-run average. "I think we're ready for the playoffs."
The Hawks are led by pitcher Dawn Roberts (20-6), second baseman Erica Ziencina (a .367 batting average and no errors) and sophomore catcher Shelly Carey (.432).
Other county teams in the 2-A playoffs are Mission Viejo (14-9), Capistrano Valley (11-8) and San Clemente (13-9).
Two county schools made the playoffs, led by Rosary (14-7), which was undefeated in the Sunrise League. Senior Brandy Gluhak, who plays third base, leads Rosary with a .453 average, a .597 on-base percentage and 22 stolen bases. In the first round Thursday, the Royalettes play Miraleste (15-9).
Whittier Christian (14-5), which finished second in the Olympic League, plays at Pioneer League champion Leuzinger (14-6) in the first round.