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Prep Rally: Players to watch in high school softball

Freshman pitcher Auddrey Lira (left) with Gatorade player of the year Sydney Somerndike of Villa Park.
(Terry Williams)
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Hi, and welcome to another edition of Prep Rally. My name is Eric Sondheimer. Softball is one of Southern California’s premier sports, and Sydney Somerndike of Villa Park is the reigning Gatorade state player of the year. If you want to win a title, you have to figure a way to beat her. Let’s examine her strengths and players to watch this season.

The pitching phenom

Freshman pitcher Auddrey Lira (left) with Gatorade player of the year Sydney Somerndike of Villa Park.
(Terry Williams)

When Villa Park softball coach Terry Williams watches Arizona-bound Sydney Somerndike pitch, it’s like taking a leisurely stroll at a park.

“Honestly, it’s kind of boring at times,” he said. “Because Sydney strikes everyone out. She’s unbelievable.”

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Well, not everyone goes down by strikeouts but a lot do. Last season’s Gatorade state player of the year struck out 336 batters in leading Villa Park to the Southern Section Division 2 championship game. She was 24-3, had two perfect games, four no-hitters and 12 shutouts. She also hit .317 with five home runs.

This season, she should be more dominating than ever while also adding a new role, mentoring freshman pitcher Auddrey Lira, the heir apparent.

Here’s a profile of Somerndike.

The Dream Team

Ella Parker of Sherman Oaks Notre Dame is coming off a sophomore season in which she hit 15 home runs.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Softball is one of the strongest sports in the Southland, with colleges coming from around the nation to take away the best high school players.

Here’s a look at 11 top players to watch for the 2022 season:

Pitcher — Sydney Somerndike, Villa Park, Sr. Reigning Gatorade state player of the year.

Pitcher — Kylee Magee, Anaheim Canyon, Sr. Arizona State commit is elite.

Pitcher — Zoe Prystajko, Huntington Beach, So. 86 strikeouts in 40 innings as freshman.

Infield — Samantha Bland, Chino Hills, Jr. Batted .424 with seven home runs.

Infield — Ella Parker, Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, Jr. Oklahoma commit Hit 15 home runs as Mission League MVP.

Infield — Mya Perez, Norco, Jr. Had 11 home runs, 54 RBIs, .543 average.

Infield — Ramsey Suarez, Great Oak, Sr. UCLA commit loaded with power.

Infield — Kiki Estrada, Orange Lutheran, Sr. Arkansas commit had five home runs.

First base — Taylor Johnson, Los Alamitos, Sr. San Diego commit hit four home runs.

Catcher — Alexis Ramirez, La Serna, Sr. UCLA commit showed stuff for OC Batbusters.

OF — Abby Dayton, Norco, Sr. Batted .470 and headed to Utah.

Basketball rewind

 Landon Lewis of Harvard-Westlake shoots over Dusty Stromer of Sherman Oaks Notre Dame. Photo by Craig Weston.
(Craig Weston)

The Southern Section basketball playoffs began last week with some big-time performance.

Gabriela Jaquez of Camarillo set a school record with a 54-point performance against Cajon.

Damien overcame a 20-point deficit to defeat Crean Lutheran in an Open Division boys’ opener.

Harvard-Westlake secured a breakthrough win over Santa Ana Mater Dei in the Open Division.

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Here’s the latest Southern Section girls’ basketball pairings.

Here’s the latest Southern Section boys’ basketball pairings.

Here’s the City Section basketball pairings.

It’s a first in City Section history. Two women head coaches for boys’ basketball teams facing off in a Thursday playoff game. Brooke Kalama of Roybal will take her team to Sherman Oaks CES, coached by Jennifer Crockett.

City soccer rivals

Birmingham soccer coach EB Madha talks to team.
(Eric Sondheimer)

The field always feels a little bit wider, a little bit longer, every time Woodland Hills El Camino Real High soccer coach Ian Kogan brings his boys’ soccer team to play at Lake Balboa Birmingham.

The Patriots have a wide-open green swath that, in comparison to El Camino Real’s home patch of grass, seems to stretch for eternity. It’s perfect for Birmingham’s playing style, built on speed and quick passes. It’s terrible for El Camino Real’s style, built on long kicks and throw-ins.

The field is chalked by coach EB Madha before every game. Kogan has a sneaking suspicion: in games hosting the Royals, Madha paints the sidelines just a little farther apart than normal.

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Well, it’s not a suspicion. Madha admits it.

“That’s why it’s called home-field advantage,” Madha said. “One of ECR’s biggest weapons is the set-piece throw-in. What coach wouldn’t take that away?”

“The problem with ECR is their field is way too narrow,” he continued. “Tell [Kogan] I’ll narrow the field if he can widen his.

This is how the Birmingham-El Camino Real soccer rivalry works. It’s a never-ending heavyweight match, the two storied programs tossing the same jabs back and forth until a punch is landed and both regroup, scrambling back to their corners for another round.

The teams are seeded No. 1 and No. 2 again for the City Division I playoffs.

Here’s a profile of their rivalry.

Soccer rewind

Charlie Munoz of Loyola celebrates after a tying goal against Santa Barbara.
(Brody Hannon)

The Southern Section soccer playoffs began last week with some drama.

Loyola was on the verge of defeat against Santa Barbara in a Division 1 opener when Charlie Munoz tied the score with a goal in the final seconds of regulation. Then the Cubs prevailed on penalty kicks to advance.

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Here’s the link to the boys’ pairings.

In girls’ soccer, defending Division 1 champion Harvard-Westlake needed a late goal to defeat Aliso Niguel 2-1. Here’s the link to updated girls’ pairings.

Florida for Boardingham

Birmingham's Arlis Boardingham.
Birmingham’s Arlis Boardingham.

(Alex Gallardo/For the Times/Alex Gallardo)

Arlis Boardingham, the City Section football player of the year from Lake Balboa Birmingham, announced Wednesday he has chosen Florida as his college.

Boardingham, 6 feet 5 and 235 pounds, was recruited to Florida to play tight end. His versatility and athleticism allowed him to play almost every position during his four years of high school, including receiver, quarterback, defensive end, linebacker and safety.

Despite his size, he returned punts and kickoffs and also punted.

Here’s a look at Boardingham.

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Errant decision

Officials are human. They make mistakes. And there was a big one last week in the Western League basketball game between Palisades and Venice.

In overtime, with the buzzer sounding, Avery Lee made a shot from near half court to give Palisades a 55-52 victory over Venice. Except the buzzer beater should not have counted.

Video clearly shows the ball was not released by Lee before the buzzer sounded. The loss was the first for Venice in Western League play.

New sports agent

Former Birmingham quarterback Trae Smith, who attended UCLA, has opened his own sports agency after years of studying and preparation.

PowerHaus Agency will focus on representing football players.

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Keeping tabs: Steve Smith

Former Taft, USC and New York Giants receiver Steve Smith.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

On Sunday, from the comfort of his living room in the San Fernando Valley, Steve Smith, the father of boys ages 10, 7 and 2 weeks old, watched the Rams take on the Bengals from SoFi Stadium and probably had one or two Super Bowl flashbacks from his days catching passes from Eli Manning for the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII in Phoenix.

“It’s a great feeling to play in the Super Bowl,” said Smith, who starred at Woodland Hills Taft High and USC before becoming a second-round NFL draft pick in 2007. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I just remember guys telling me that they’d be playing for 15-plus years and never made it. I was just a young guy, but the buildup was awesome. The players were tremendous. The hoopla you have to really stay focused. It’s a great culmination to the season, and you get to hoist the trophy at the end.”

Here’s a profile of Smith and some lessons for those who want to follow in his footsteps.

Baseball

On opening day, Jaden Noot of Sierra Canyon hit a two-run home run.
On opening day, Jaden Noot of Sierra Canyon hit a two-run home run and pitched the Trailblazers to victory over Grace Brethren.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

The baseball season began with some top performances.

Bishop Alemany upset Huntington Beach 11-7.

Three Hart pitchers combined for a 7-0 win over Santa Barbara.

Yucaipa showed how good it might be with a 4-0 win over Mira Costa.

Nick Bonn of Laguna Beach had 12 strikeouts in five innings against Long Beach Poly.

In his first varsity at-bat, 6-foot-3 sophomore Easton Hawk of Granada Hills hit a home run against Calabasas.

Here’s the link to baseball roundup.

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Girls’ water polo

Newport Harbor High water polo player #7 Avery Montiel.
Newport Harbor High water polo player #7 Avery Montiel looks to shoot in home game vs. Laguna Beach, in Newport Beach on Wednesday, March 17, 2021. Laguna won 10-4.
(Raul Roa/Staff Photographer)

Four Orange County teams have advanced to the Southern Section Open Division semifinals in girls water polo.

Newport Harbor will face Foothill and Laguna Beach will take on Orange Lutheran on Wednesday at Woollett Aquatics Center in Irvine.

Here’s a rundown on how the semifinals came about.

Notes . . .

Junior baseball player Tyler Holley from Bonita has committed to Cal State Fullerton. . . .

Moorpark coach Ryan Moore has resigned as basketball coach. . . .

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert was at Long Beach Poly this week to present a check to help pay for championship rings for the football team. . . .

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Juju Watkins of Sierra Canyon has become the first high school athlete to sign with Klutch Sports for NIL representation. . . .

South Hills has named former Bishop Amat defensive coordinator Jacob Calderon as football coach. . . .

Sophomore baseball player Nick Stiveson of Redondo Union has committed to Stanford. . . .

Junior shortstop Angel Cortez of Gahr has committed to San Diego.

From the archives: Scott Garson

Scott Garson was the point guard on championship Harvard-Westlake teams with the Collins twins in the 1990s. He went into coaching and has been at it for 24 years at the collegiate level.

He was an assistant at Utah for Rick Majerus for five years, then spent nine years with Ben Howland at UCLA. He was head coach at College of Idaho for five seasons and has been an assistant at Santa Clara for four seasons.

Here’s a 1994 story on former Harvard-Westlake coach Greg Hilliard, who helped tutor Garson.

Recommendations

From the Los Angeles Times, a story about the issue of racial slurs against athletes still happening in Orange County.

From the Los Angeles Times, a story on former Gardena Serra, USC and Rams receiver Robert Woods trying to overcome injury and death of his father.

From Collegebasketballtimes.com, a story on former Van Nuys Grant center Chayce Polynice.

Tweets you might have missed

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Until next time...

Have a question, comment or something you’d like to see in a future Prep Rally newsletter? Email me at eric.sondheimer@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latsondheimer.

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