The whirlwind that is the Central Coast Section softball playoffs begin this week, and new section champions will be crowned in two weekends. Right now, we take a look at each CCS playoff bracket.
TOP FOUR SEEDS: Carlmont, Saint Francis, Watsonville, Silver Creek
OVERVIEW: Noticeably absent from the top four seeds is Valley Christian. All the Warriors did was win the WCAL regular season title, then take home the tournament championship. Yet they are seeded seventh, beneath league mates Saint Francis and St. Ignatius, and open as the visiting team against Saint Francis on Saturday at Willow Glen.
Carlmont has been strong all season long, led by pitching-hitting standout Mailey McLemore. The Scots’ lone loss this season was 3-2 against Saint Francis. Junior outfielder Ashley Trierwelier is the ultimate table-setter for the Scots, with an astronomical 53 hits, and a .602 batting average. Meanwhile, two seed Saint Francis has a mixed bag of results this season, having lost twice in the last four games to five seed St. Ignatius, and with earlier losses to Silver Creek and Watsonville, plus a season split with Valley Christian. The Lancers, who also have the win over Carlmont and a season sweep against Mitty, are led by junior pitcher Jordan Schuring, while junior Hannah Damore and sophomore Hailey Prahm are a dynamic young infield combo.
After capturing the Division I title last season, Watsonville looks to ride the pitcher-catcher battery of Jessica Rodriguez and Juliana Wilson to an Open Division title. Rodriguez, a verbal UNLV commit, sports a 0.56 ERA this season, while Wilson has thrown out over 50 percent of would-be base stealers and has slugged 11 home runs. After a few hiccups during the league season, Silver Creek emerged on top of the Mount Hamilton Division, and will look to support junior pitcher Clarisa Ramirez with solid defense and power hitting. The Raiders have hit 18 home runs this season, including seven from Atalia Quenga.
St. Ignatius is a dangerous five seed, with Madie Augusto in the circle and sophomore Kelly McGuigan powering the line-up with her .521 average and section-leading 13 home runs. Maicie Levitt is also hitting .437 with eight home runs, as the Wildcats boast a team batting average .338. SCVAL-De Anza Division champion Los Gatos joins the field as the six seed, facing Watsonville in the quarterfinals. LG has 42 stolen bases this season, and is batting .327 as a team, numbers which could test a Watsonville team which has allowed just four stolen bases all season and is holding opponents to a .137 batting average.
That takes us to Valley Christian, which won the games that counted most all season, including last weekend’s WCAL tournament title game against St. Ignatius. Junior pitcher Kayla Dominguez leads the Warriors in the circle, while also hitting .358 at the plate. The lineup has multiple threats, with junior catcher Kacey Zobac leading the way with her .625 average and four home runs, two of which came in the league championship game. Senior Lauren Hendrickson is another tough out, batting .431 this year.
The eight seed is another familiar name, longtime powerhouse Archbishop Mitty. The Monarchs fell to Valley Christian in the WCAL semifinals, and were swept by Saint Francis this season, but also made a strong run in the Livermore Stampede, notched an eight-game winning streak earlier this year, and have quality wins over St. Ignatius, Castro Valley, and Freedom. Even from the eight seed, Mitty is a threat for the title, especially if the Monarchs can build early momentum with a win over Carlmont.
SLEEPER: In an eight-team Open Division field, there are no true sleepers, but when looking at the bottom four seeds, keep an eye on St. Ignatius. If the Wildcats get hot, and receive Augusto’s best pitching, they have the lineup to hit any pitching, and open against a Silver Creek team that pitches to contact.
PREDICTED CHAMPION: St. Ignatius
DIVISION I (bracket)
TOP FOUR SEEDS: Gilroy, Santa Clara, Mountain View, Oak Grove
OVERVIEW: While a slew of upsets would be more surprising in this division than in the Open, there are a few first-round match-ups which jump off the page.
Having swept the season series from Los Gatos, and with an earlier win over Mitty, two seed Santa Clara certainly looks the part of a title contender, especially with Kathryn Caravalho dominating in the circle. But the Bruins had to be a bit stunned by their first-round opponent, a San Benito squad which played an elite non-league schedule and has wins over Mitty, Watsonville, and Gilroy. The Balers have limped into the playoffs a little, losing three of their last four games, but have plenty of big-game experience and a big-time lineup led by juniors Dominique Monteon and Amber Rodriguez. This first round game should be on everyone’s radar.
The same holds true for three seed Mountain View, which faces 14 seed Presentation in the first round. The lower-seeded Panthers took their lumps in the rugged WCAL, but have non-league wins over Oak Grove, Turlock, Gilroy, Marin Catholic, Valley Christian, and San Benito. Junior Kaia McCaul leads the way for Presentation. Mountain View, meanwhile, might have the bigger stigma to overcome, as the Spartans are still looking to prove themselves outside the SCVAL. They finished tied with Los Gatos atop the De Anza standings at 10-2 in league play, but went just 4-9 outside the league. Madysen Garcia leads a pitching staff by committee, while senior Rani Lauwers provides pop at the plate.
Any of the MBL-Gabilan teams in this field have the talent to make a run towards the title game. Top seed Gilroy has posted big wins all season, knocking off teams such as Hillsdale, San Benito, Christopher, Oak Grove, North Salinas, and Notre Dame-Belmont, but the Mustangs were also swept by five seed Salinas, who has also been the only team to beat Santa Catalina this year. Junior Gianna Vanni leads the Gilroy pitching staff, but it is the Mustangs’ lineup, which has popped 13 home runs this season, that will need to come through in the post-season.
SLEEPER: We’re going pretty low for our sleeper teams, but we already discussed both of them. San Benito, as the 15 seed, has arguably the best lineup in the entire field, but we are going with 14 seed Presentation as our sleeper pick, because the Panthers have actually been very consistent outside of WCAL competition. Eight of the Panthers’ 10 losses came to WCAL opponents, of which there are none in this field.
PREDICTED CHAMPION: Presentation
DIVISION II (bracket)
TOP FOUR SEEDS: Hillsdale, Santa Catalina, Half Moon Bay, Pacific Grove
OVERVIEW: While the Division I field is filled with teams featuring up-and-down seasons, Division II is actually stocked with strong programs who have played consistently this year. And the elite match-ups begin right away, with great pitching in the first round.
Fans of a softball pitching duel might want to head over to Half Moon Bay for Wednesday’s first round, where the three-seed Cougars will host 14 seed King’s Academy. Senior Grace Garcia anchors the HMB pitching staff, but she is opposed by TKA junior Ilona Sullivan, who has thrown four no-hitters this year, with opponents batting just .098 against her. Sullivan also leads the Knights’ lineup, batting .684 with three home runs.
The top two seeds in the field, Hillsdale and Santa Catalina, could be on track for a couple of special quarterfinal games if they each win their first-round match-ups. Top seed Hillsdale has won 20 games, and is batting .363 as a team, but could be facing an emotionally charged opponent in the quarterfinals if rival Aragon can dispatch Sobrato in the first round. Aragon is led by pitcher Holly Fletcher, and fell just 3-2 against the Fighting Knights in their most recent meeting.
Santa Catalina, meanwhile, dominated the MTAL behind the arm of freshman standout Emma James, and could be part of another elite quarterfinal game if Notre Dame-Belmont gets past Westmont in the first round. NDB won the WBAL-Foothill and has earlier wins over Silver Creek and Christopher.
As the four and five seeds, Carmel and Pacific Grove have a chance to demonstrate depth in the MTAL if they can win their first round games and give the league three teams in the quarterfinals.
SLEEPER: Pitching often wins championships, so it is impossible to ignore The King’s Academy, with Sullivan leading the charge in her first year at the Sunnyvale campus. She was not available in four of the Knights’ five losses this season, and they have been dangerous with her in the circle, including a recent win over San Benito.
PREDICTED CHAMPION: Hillsdale