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SOUTHERN SECTION SOFTBALL PREVIEW : Strong Pitching Keys Kennedy, Garden Grove

TIMES STAFF WRITER

This year’s Southern Section 4-A softball final just might be an all-Garden Grove League affair. Orange County powers Kennedy, the 4-A division’s second-seeded team, and fourth-seeded Garden Grove could meet in the championship game.

First-round 4-A games are scheduled for 3 p.m. today, with Kennedy (21-3-1) at home against La Habra (15-11) and Garden Grove (21-4-1) at home against Sunny Hills (11-12).

Kennedy and Garden Grove, co-champions of the Garden Grove League, are evenly matched as evidenced by a 20-inning, 1-1 tie in their first meeting. Kennedy won the second game, 1-0, in 11 innings.

Kennedy won the division title two years ago and lost to Western in the semifinals last year. Both years, pitcher Cheryl Longeway helped the Fighting Irish advance. Longeway, now a junior, is 16-2-1 with 159 strikeouts and an 0.22 earned-run average.

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Garden Grove has Orange County’s strikeout leader, senior Stephanie (Smitty) Smith, who has struck out 282, a school record. She is 21-4-1 with an 0.07 ERA.

Another 4-A contender is third-seeded Buena Park (16-3-2). The Coyotes won their first Freeway League championship since 1976. Buena Park is led by senior pitcher Shannon Akau (16-3), who has an 0.16 ERA with 176 strikeouts, and senior catcher Kari Escobedo, a .417 hitter.

The top three teams in the Orange League--Savanna (23-7), Valencia (20-9) and Western (13-18)--don’t appear to have the pitching to contend with Kennedy or Garden Grove.

The Century League entrants might have a little better luck. Canyon (21-6) ranked fifth in the final county coaches’ poll and shared the Century League championship with Villa Park (13-10-1).

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Rounding out the county entrants in 4-A are Pacifica (12-8) and Sunny Hills.

In the 1-A division, Santa Margarita (14-3) travels to Huntington Park to meet St. Matthias (5-6-1) and Calvary Chapel travels to Los Angeles to take on Notre Dame Academy (12-7).

In the small schools division, Liberty Christian (17-4) is at home against Providence (9-4-1).

In Division 4-A play Thursday:

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Villa Park 3, Fontana 0--Munique Hernandez (12-4) pitched a three-hitter, struck out six and walked one to lead host Villa Park (14-10-1). Fontana is 13-9.Michele D’Amato had one hit, one RBI and Robyn Kerfoot had two hits and scored a run for Villa Park.


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