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Women’s College World Series a reunion for Southern California softball stars

Florida’s Amanda Lorenz (18), Justine McLean (52) and Nicole DeWitt (23) celebrate a score in the se
Florida’s Amanda Lorenz celebrates a run during a Women’s College World Series game against Washington in 2017. Lorenz is one of many Southern California-raised players competing in this year’s tournament.
(Sarah Phipps / Associated Press)

The opening banquet of the Women’s College World Series was a reunion for former members of Orange County Batbusters, a club softball team based in Southern California.

Twenty college athletes, all former Batbusters, gathered to take a group photo at the banquet. They are competitors now, vying to win the national championship on different teams. But that night they smiled together and appreciated how far they had come since their time as teammates.

The moment was “really special,” said Florida’s Amanda Lorenz, a senior outfielder from Moorpark. “I know that I wouldn’t be here without them.”

Lorenz and several others sent the photo to Mike Stith, president and coach of the Batbusters club.

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Former members of the Corona Angels took a similar photo. Others relished reuniting with the friends who played on local teams they grew up competing against.

With 49 players from Southern California competing in the Women’s College World Series, there were plenty of reunions. Stith saw even more take place on the field as he watched the games unfold on television. There were jokes shared among opponents, greetings mumbled after plays.

When Washington and Arizona faced each other in the opening game game of the Women’s College World Series on Thursday, Stith said 10 players were former Batbusters. One, Dejah Mulipola, hit the game-winning home run for the Wildcats. Another, Taylor McQuillin, struck out seven batters and pitched a complete game for Arizona.

“That’s what makes the competition fun,” McQuillin said. “You know the people you want to compete against. It’s a competition within the overall game.”

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Southern California has established itself as the nation’s softball mecca. The eight teams in the Women’s College World Series have a total of 62 players from California. Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso and UCLA coach Kelly Inouye-Perez, who lead the nation’s top two teams, both grew up in the Los Angeles area, and all but one of the Bruins players are from the state.

“If you want to play competitive ball, the West Coast is where it began,” Inouye-Perez said, “and it’s still there.”

The weather helps, allowing Southern California’s youth players to compete outside year-round. So does the region’s rich softball history. Players have access to more travel teams and more experienced coaches. Those high-level teams face each other regularly.

“There’s nothing like playing in Southern California and the competitiveness that you get every single weekend,” Lorenz said. “That definitely prepared us for this. We got this competition every weekend.”

For that reason, Gasso said she likes recruiting Southern California players. Even as freshmen, they are seasoned and ready to contribute to the team.

Arizona’s Dejah Mulipola looks to the bench after hitting a solo home run to lead off the second inn
Arizona’s Dejah Mulipola celebrates after hitting a solo home run against Mississippi in Game 2 of the NCAA super regional on May 25.
(Kelly Presnell / Associated Press)

“I think that helps your program maintain an excellence,” Gasso said Friday. “If you’ve got to wait for your freshmen to figure it out, then you go through hills and valleys. So they’ve helped kind of maintain where we’re at.”

Those opportunities are more dispersed now, Inouye-Perez said, with states like Texas emerging as hotbeds for the sport. Still, even as the game has grown, Southern California still dominates the softball scene.

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There is something about the region, a standard of excellence that keeps local teams raising the bar for athletes, growing more competitive each year.

“It’s the tradition,” Stith said, “the rich tradition of the depth of coaching and the competition in Southern California that will always produce a lot of great players and kids that are willing to put in the time.”

It helps that the young players’ role models are so easily accessible. The present-day Orange County Batbusters watch college softball games on television all season. In the Women’s College World Series, they see players who were once in their place. This summer, several are coming back.

Arizona redshirt junior Alyssa Palomino and Washington redshirt junior Morganne Flores will help coach the youth teams, and UCLA freshman Colleen Sullivan will track the team’s statistics, Stith said.

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“Very proud,” Stith said. “It’s a very proud moment to watch them play and to be successful, but yet to show the kids behind them how to do things, the right path.”

As they set the tone for younger players they remember being in their place. They soak up surreal moments — the group pictures and in-game greetings — of the Women’s College World Series. A tight-knit community within a rapidly growing game.

“We followed each other growing up,” said Arizona junior Jessie Harper, who is from Stevenson Ranch. “We finally made it here. It’s a very cool experience, for sure.”

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blake.richardson@latimes.com

@rblakerich_


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