GLENDALE — In the ever-changing and surprising realm of the CIF Southern Section softball and baseball playoffs, wild-card games have become abundant, first-round playoff berths have become harder and harder to come by and predictions are difficult to make.
Thus, maybe it should not have been all that surprising when Crescenta Valley High's softball team, after sharing the Pacific League title with Burroughs, found out upon the playoff pairings' unveilings on Monday afternoon, that it would be taking to the road to face Oak Park at 3:15 p.m. Thursday in the opening round of the Southern Section Division III playoffs.
"I don't understand it," said Falcons Coach Dan Berry, whose team has won 12 straight games, sports a 21-3 record and defeated Burroughs in the teams' final meeting to force a shared title. "But you gotta play the game."
In contrast, Flintridge Prep, which shared the Prep League title with Mayfield, will play host to either Alverno or St. Paul on Thursday in the opening round of the Division VI playoffs.
And, Holy Family, the Horizon League's second-place team, will travel to face Vasquez elsewhere in the Division VI playoffs' first round.
Perhaps the biggest difference for the Falcons and Rebels was simply within tiebreakers.
Crescenta Valley enters the playoffs as the Pacific League's No. 2 entrant as head-to-head run differential put Burroughs as the No. 1 team from the league. Flintridge Prep (13-4), meanwhile, went in as the No. 1 team from its league over Mayfield due to a tiebreaker of head-to-head record against the next-best finisher in the league, which was Rio Hondo Prep, which was swept by the Rebels, but split with the Cubs.
"You never know with CIF, there's really nothing that's assured," said Rebels Coach Julie Jaime. "We are very happy to be hosting and to be hosting a wild-card winner."
Alverno (5-11), the third-place finisher from the Horizon League, will travel to face Santa Paula (10-7), the Frontier League's No. 3 team, today for a chance to play Prep.
Prep won its last two games of the season to secure a share of the league title.
"We're playing good softball, so I'm excited," said Jaime, whose team has been led all season by the exploits of senior pitcher Denise van der Goot along with the offense of the likes Abbey Deckop and Alina Okamoto. "The girls are ready and they're pumped for playoffs."
Van der Goot threw a no-hitter in her final regular season game against Westridge and has been stellar through the year.
"She wants the ball right now and her team supports her," said Jaime, whose team, should it advance to Tuesday's second round, would face Rim of the World or the Academy of Academic Excellence. "And she's feeling confident right now coming off her no-hitter."
Reigning All-Area Player of the Year Erin Ashby has been a standout for CV as a pitcher and hitter for the last two seasons and will lead the Falcons into a tussle with Oak Park, the Tri-Valley League's second-place squad. Oak Park finished behind top-seeded Oaks Christian.
"They have seen good teams play, so they're not gonna be intimidated," said Berry, whose team had been ranked No. 10 in CIF in recent weeks, but fell out of the poll in the final week, though Burroughs remained at No. 9 despite losing to the Falcons.
Oak Park is led by Christie Langlois, who's hitting .538 with 30 runs scored and 35 runs batted in as one of four Eagles with 20 or more RBI and one of seven with 10 or more.
Bolstered by big hitters Sydney House and Hannah Cookson, Crescenta Valley is looking to make it out of the first round after falling in the team's opening-round tilt last season.
"Going in, we're tied 0-0 with Oak Park, we'll do what we can," Berry said. "The kids worked all year to get to this place. … I think we've been doing well. The kids believe in themselves."
Should CV advance, it would likely face No. 2 seed Bishop Amat, which opens up with a wild-card winner.
Holy Family (8-6) has done well enough to call the current season one of the program's best, as it came up a game short of first in the Horizon League and will now travel to face Vasquez (17-4), the Desert Mountain League champion.
Led by the pitching of Rachel Turner and the offense of Elena Lomelli, the Gaels improved from last season's third-place league finish and will now look to improve upon their postseason status after losing in the wild-card round last year.
Vasquez has won seven straight games and is led by Emily Gordon, who has an eye-popping 62 RBI to go with a .520 batting average, 32 runs and 24 extra-base hits.
The winner will advance to face fourth-seeded Oxford Academy or a wild-card winner.