CIF roundup: Esperanza softball upsets No. 1 Norco to reach Division 1 final

Esperanza High’s softball team upset yet another No. 1-ranked opponent on Thursday, June 10.

Now, the Aztecs will get a chance to cement their standing as the best team in the CIF Southern Section.

Senior pitcher Emily Gomez recovered from a rocky first inning to fire a five-hitter and senior center fielder Hannah Coor homered for the second consecutive game as Esperanza stunned top-seeded and host Norco 7-2 in the Division 1 semifinals.

No. 4 seeded Esperanza (21-3) will face Roosevelt, a 7-6 winner against Chino Hills, in the championship game next week at Deanna Manning Stadium in Irvine. The schedule is expected to be released soon by the CIF Southern Section.

Norco (27-2) entered Thursday riding a 26-game winning streak and having outscored its three playoff opponents 36-1, including an eye-popping 15-1 margin against Los Alamitos.

But the Cougars became the third No. 1-ranked team to fall to the Aztecs this spring.

Esperanza also has defeated previously No. 1-ranked Chino Hills 3-2 and Villa Park, formerly the top-ranked squad in Division 2, 1-0 in the Crestview League.

“The girls on the team knew they could compete,” Esperanza coach Ed Tunstall said after Thursday’s triumph. “They were not intimidated, and they all stepped up.”

Norco scored twice against Gomez in the first inning but didn’t plate another run against the steady senior, who struck out six and didn’t walk a batter.

Esperanza scored seven consecutive runs after falling behind 2-0. Beside the two-run homer by the Oklahoma-bound Coor, the Aztecs received three hits from sophomore shortstop Sharyn Duncan and two from freshman right fielder Taylor Shumaker.

Tunstall noted that eight different players either scored or drove in a run for the Aztecs. Sophomore second baseman Audrey Robles had two RBIs while courtesy runner Makenna Milliman scored a run. “Big team win,” Tunstall said.

Sophomore Mya Perez had two of Norco’s five hits.

Esperanza advanced to its second section final. In 2001, the Aztecs fell in the Division 1 championship to Rancho Cucamonga 1-0 in 12 innings.

Roosevelt finished second to Norco in the powerful Big VIII League.

More updates to come.

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CIF roundup: Esperanza softball reaches Division 1 semifinals on walk-off home run by Hannah Coor

The magical finishes to games are spreading at Esperanza High.

Oklahoma-bound center fielder Hannah Coor belted a walk-off, three-run home run in the bottom of the 11th inning Tuesday, June 8 to lift the Aztecs’ softball team past visiting Murrieta Mesa 5-2 in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 quarterfinals.

Coor’s dramatic homer arrived on the heels of two last-second victories by Esperanza’s girls basketball team during its playoff run, which hits the Division 1 final at Long Beach Poly on Thursday.

Coor’s blast sent the No. 4 seeded Aztecs into the semifinals Thursday at No. 1 Norco, which defeated Los Alamitos 15-1.

Esperanza senior pitcher Emily Gomez went 11 innings to earn the victory, scattering five hits and striking out eight.

Freshman Taylor Shumaker and sophomore second baseman Audrey Robles each added three hits for Esperanza.

In other quarterfinals Tuesday:

In Division 5:

Ocean View 3, Capo Valley 1: Desyree Arizmendi fired a complete game with six strikeouts and Emma Craft had three hits to help the Seahawks upset No. 2 seeded and host Cougars.

Ocean View, the third-place team from the solid Golden West League, will play host San Marcos in the semifinals on Thursday.

Western Christian plays host to Heritage Christian in the other semifinal.

In Division 4:

Rosary 5, Citrus Valley 1: Hannah Hernandez and Danica Silvestri each had three hits and Natalie Romero threw seven strong innings as No. 2 seeded and host Royals reached the semifinals. Rosary will play host Thursday to Oxnard, an 8-0 winner against Arlington.

In Division 3:

Beckman 5, Arcadia 0: The visiting Patriots moved onto Thursday’s semifinals against Redondo. The semifinal will be played at Beckman.

In Division 2:

Villa Park 3, Downey 0: Arizona-committed junior Sydney Somerndike fired a one-hitter and struck out 16 and Jordyn Lawhon added two hits as the No. 2 seeded Spartans reached Thursday’s semifinals. Villa Park will play host to Westlake for a trip to the finals.

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Esperanza girls basketball sinks half-court buzzer-beater to beat Serra in CIF playoffs

Esperanza High’s Emily Briggs launched the shot from half-court and felt “frozen in time” as she watched the ball sail toward the basket. Waiting. Waiting.

Buzzer-beater.

The senior drained a last-second 3-pointer to lift the Aztecs past visiting Serra 63-62 in the second round of the CIF Division 1 playoffs, adding yet another chapter to one of the most inspiring runs of the girls basketball season.

Buzzer-beater madness at @EsperanzaAthlet! Senior Emily Briggs nails half-court shot at the buzzer to lift Aztecs girls basketball past visiting Serra 63-62 in Div1 2nd rd! @ocvarsity @SteveFryer @ocregister @OCRhythmHoops @CalHiSports @pylusd pic.twitter.com/9ZzXzrFhWj

— Dan Albano (@ocvarsityguy) May 30, 2021

“Incredible,” Briggs said of the basket, which ignited a wild, on-court celebration with her teammates. “We put everything we have into our games.”

On Saturday, May 29, everything included an in-bound play from the Serra baseline with 1 second left in regulation.

Trailing 62-60, Esperanza coach Jimmy Valverde turned to a play that he last used more than decade ago while coaching Katella’s girls against Villa Park.

He ran a double-screen near the foul line for sharp-shooter Alyssa Kubo running away from the ball. He then slipped the trailing, third player — Briggs — in the opposite direction, toward the near sideline at half-court.

Briggs caught the inbound pass on the fly from point guard Kaiya Mack, quickly spun and took one dribble before heaving the shot from midcourt.

“It was a great pass,” Briggs said of Mack’s inbound feed.

And the shot, she said, was just like all those half-court attempts the Aztecs take at the end of practices.

“Every practice,” she said. “We actually try to make them.”

And after no player sank one during practice Friday, Briggs made the biggest one of the season Saturday. Esperanza (19-2) plays at Sierra Canyon in the quarterfinals Wednesday.

“It’s like a dream,” Valverde said.

Especially when one considers Esperanza’s season. The Aztecs are riding a 19-game winning streak includes a clutch shot last week against visiting Eisenhower.

Kubo sank a buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of the first overtime that forced a second extra period in a nonleague game Esperanza won 53-48.

The winning streak, Crestview League title and dramatic victories come after Valverde missed about two months in the winter after undergoing quadruple bypass surgery. He missed Esperanza’s season-opening loss against Mater Dei but has been on the sideline ever since.

He jumped at halfcourt Saturday with his wife Pilar.

“We play how Jimmy coaches,” Briggs said. “He’s very passionate.”

But Valverde, The Register’s coach of the year in 2019-20, deflects the praise to his assistant coaches — Connie Ballesteros, Don Miller, Sean Barnett —  and his players.

“All these players are winners on and off the court,” he said. “They were meant to win.”

It certainly seemed that way again Saturday.

More results from Saturday to come. 

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Portola boys tennis defeats Viewpoint for first CIF-SS championship

Portola High continued its rise as a tennis powerhouse on Friday, May 28 by capturing the CIF-SS Division 2 boys title.

Singles ace AJ Moore and two teams in doubles delivered sweeps as the top-seeded Bulldogs defeated host Viewpoint 11-7 to capture their first section championship.

Moore, the Pacific Coast League singles champion, swept 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 to help the Bulldogs take five of nine sets in singles.

In doubles, Portola claimed six of nine sets behind sweeps from the tandems of Alyan Ashraf-Sam Ferreira and Chris Li-Rishi Vridhachalam. Ashraf-Ferreira won 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 while Li-Vridhachalam rolled 7-5, 6-2, 6-1.

Portola (19-4) gained momentum for the playoffs by taking third place in the tough Pacific Coast League, including victories against Open Division semifinalist Woodbridge and Division 1 playoff qualifier Northwood.

“Those were some top-notch matches that solidified our potential to make it pretty far in playoffs,” Portola coach Natasha Schottland said. “Very excited to be bringing back the championship to Portola.”

In the fall of 2019, Portola won girls Division 3 for the first CIF title in any sport in school history.

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Northwood football coach Justin Utupo resigns weeks after being hired

Northwood High is again searching for a football coach.

Justin Utupo, recently hired to lead the Timberwolves’ program, has resigned, co-athletic director Brandon Emery said on Tuesday, May 25.

Northwood confirmed Utupo’s hire earlier this month.

Utupo spent this past season as an assistant at Orange Lutheran. Prior to that, he served as an assistant at Azusa Pacific University and was the coach at Long Beach Millikan for two successful seasons.

Utupo was a star defensive lineman at Lakewood and went to play at Notre Dame.

Lakewood is seeking a coach after the departure of Scott Meyer to his alma mater, Long Beach Wilson.

At Northwood, Utupo was set to replace Mike Stewart, who resigned after serving as the team’s interim coach during the coronavirus-shortened season this spring.

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Magnolia seeking new football coach but Bill McFeggan standing by if needed

Bill McFeggan is serving as Magnolia High’s acting football coach as the Orange League school seeks a permanent replacement, he said on Monday, May 24.

McFeggan, also the baseball coach at Magnolia, took the reins of the football program after the departure of Thavis Miller in late October.

He guided the Sentinels to a 2-3 record and fourth-place finish in the Orange League during the coronavirus-shortened and delayed season this spring.

The season marked McFeggan’s first with the football program since 2002 as an assistant coach.

He said if the school can’t find a football coach, he will guide the team in the fall.

Miller resigned before he coached the Sentinels, departing because of family reasons.

Magnolia found coaching stability in Desmond Hernandez but he resigned in August after three seasons. He now serves as an assistant at Portola.

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Ex-Crean Lutheran star Ella Eastin halts swimming career for health concerns

Former Crean Lutheran High and Stanford swimmer Ella Eastin announced Tuesday, May 18 that she won’t race at the upcoming U.S. Olympic Trials because she has developed chronic fatigue and a nervous system disorder.

Eastin, 24, shared the conditions in a post on Instagram, writing that “for the first time, the health of my body and mind had to take priority” over her swimming career.

“Over the past year and half, I have been battling a seemingly undiagnosable illness that has incapacitated me,” she wrote. “I lost my ability to manage daily activities and had to be taken care of by family and friends.”

Eastin was expected to be among the contenders in the individual medley events at the Trials in Omaha, Neb. She is a member of the national team in the 200 and 400-meter individual medley.

Her last major appearance with the U.S. national team was in 2019 at the World Championships, where she placed 12th in the 200 IM.

Eastin helped Stanford win three NCAA team championships during a decorated collegiate career. She won eight individual NCAA titles and set four American records.

Eastin’s collegiate career came after a record-setting career at Crean Lutheran and rising the ranks with the SOCAL and Irvine Novaquatics club.

She said her nervous system disorder affects her cardiovascular health, energy and mental stability. She said she will continue to swim as a “restorative” activity and hopes to pursue a nursing career.

“I have been blessed by my swimming career in that it gave me lifelong friends, priceless experiences and prepared me to take on any challenge that may come my way,” she said. “You may just see me again behind the blocks one day.”

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Girls basketball: Hannah Stines’ late 3-pointer lifts Orangewood Academy past Sage Hill

NEWPORT COAST — Sage Hill High’s up-and-coming girls basketball team played another tough opponent down to the wire on Wednesday, May 12.

Hannah Stines of Orangewood Academy made sure the Lightning remain in search of a breakthrough victory.

The guard sank a 3-pointer with about a minute left in the fourth quarter to help lift visiting No. 2 Orangewood Academy past No. 7 Sage Hill 57-53 in the teams’ first of consecutive games in the San Joaquin League.

First-place Orangewood Academy (9-3, 5-1) plays host to third-place Sage Hill (12-4, 3-2) again on Thursday, May 13.

Stines’ 3-pointer gave the Spartans a 55-50 lead and answered a 3-pointer by Sage Hill junior guard Isabel Gomez, who made her shot after a slick, pump-fake and side-step from the wing.

Here’s the dagger 3 from Hannah Stines of @OASpartans, maybe the best junior in the county at this pt pic.twitter.com/jNm2W5wsPF

— Dan Albano (@ocvarsityguy) May 13, 2021

Stines added two free throws with 24.5 seconds left and a steal at half court as time expired. The junior finished with a game-high 22 points and added 13 rebounds and six assists.

Orangewood Academy senior center Aixchel Hernandez, playing with a broken nose, supported Stines with a season-high 18 points.

Sage Hill trailed 50-39 early in the fourth quarter before surging to the finish. Freshman guard Zoie Lamkin sparked the surge with consecutive field goals and scored 10 of her 12 points in the period. Center Emily Elliott led Sage Hill with 17 points.

Freshman forward Emily Eadie and Gomez added 11 and 10 points, respectively.

Sage Hill, playing without two, key freshmen due to injuries, led 30-28 at halftime but Orangewood outscored the Lightning 18-4 in the third to take the lead. The Lightning also have narrow losses to Sierra Canyon and Fairmont Prep.

 

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Motivated Keyla Romo leads Orangewood Academy girls basketball past rival Fairmont Prep

GARDEN GROVE — Orangewood Academy’s girls basketball team seized the victory it needed Wednesday, May 5 to stay in contention for the San Joaquin League title.

Keyla Romo made sure it counted for her grandmother, too.

On a night in which baskets were hard to come by, the guard sank a career-best four 3-pointers to help the No. 5 Spartans knock off visiting No. 2 Fairmont Prep 44-29 on the same day her grandmother died in Mexico after a fight with COVID-19.

Romo pounded her chest after one of her three first-half 3-pointers and drilled one more with 2:41 left in the fourth quarter en route to 14 points, which matched Hannah Stines for game-high honors.

“I was emotionally broke but then I realized that she wanted me to play hard and play for her,” Romo said of her grandmother Maria, who lived in Chihuahua, Mexico. “That’s what motivated me.”

Orangewood Academy (5-3, 3-1) avenged an earlier loss to Fairmont Prep (8-5, 4-1) in league and now moves on to play Sage Hill (10-2, 1-1) in back-to-back games May 12-13.

Romo said her grandmother was a fixture of her childhood and also a positive influence during the injury struggles as a sophomore and junior. She suffered a torn ACL just prior to her sophomore season and missed most of her junior season after having a second surgery due to scar tissue.

“She said I was her star,” Romo said of her grandmother.

Romo added a team-high four steals to help lead the Spartans’ defense. Orangewood Academy opened in a 2-3 defense before switching to a matchup zone.

“She played the game of her life,” Orangewood Academy coach Leslie Aragon said of Romo, an uncommitted 5-foot-10 senior. “All of those 3s. She came out with energy. She keys a lot of the stuff on defense. .. She was tough as nails. I’m so proud of her.”

Romo shared the spotlight with Stines, who scored 10 points in the second half and added 15 rebounds. The junior highlighted the fourth quarter by diving for a loose ball and then driving in heavy traffic on the ensuing possession for a left-handed layup to give the Spartans a 42-29 lead.

Amaya Lacy added 10 points and nine rebounds for Orangewood Academy. Aixchel Hernandez also helped the defense with two blocks and nine rebounds.

The Spartans made 1 of 13 shots from the floor in the second quarter to lead 19-13 at intermission.

Makaila Glynn led Fairmont Prep with 12 points and three steals. The Huskies made 1 of their first 17 3 pointers.

“We got the shots we wanted but just couldn’t hit tonight,” Fairmont Prep coach Sara Brown said.

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Los Alamitos softball finds its offensive firepower, knocks off No. 1 Villa Park

LOS ALAMITOS — Facing the hottest pitcher on the No. 1-ranked softball team in Orange County didn’t appear to be most favorable match-up for Los Alamitos High’s scuffling offense on Saturday, May 1.

But the Griffins had plans for Arizona commit Sydney Somerndike and Villa Park, plenty of resolve and even a few base running surprises from Coach Rob Weil.

Oklahoma-bound Sophia Nugent belted a two-run home run and Malayna Terrones and Emma Haygood added back-to-back home runs as the No. 3 Griffins emerged from their hitting slump to defeat previously undefeated Villa Park 8-1 in a Savanna Showcase game at Los Alamitos.

  • Los Alamitos center fielder Erin Mendoza robs Villa Park’s Claire Duckworth of a home run in a non-league softball game at Los Alamitos High Los Alamitos on Saturday, May 1, 2021. (Sam Gangwer, Contributing Photographer)

  • Villa Park third baseman Mikayla Maher puts the tag on Los Alamitos’s Camryn Johnson only to have her be called safe in a non-league softball game at Los Alamitos High Los Alamitos on Saturday, May 1, 2021. (Sam Gangwer, Contributing Photographer)

  • Los Alamitos catcher Sophia Nugent, center, is congratulated after hitting a two-run home run against Villa Park in a non-league softball game at Los Alamitos High Los Alamitos on Saturday, May 1, 2021. (Sam Gangwer, Contributing Photographer)

  • Villa Park’s Claire Duckworth is congratulated after hitting a solo home run against Los Alamitos in a non-league softball game at Los Alamitos High Los Alamitos on Saturday, May 1, 2021. (Sam Gangwer, Contributing Photographer)

  • Villa Park starting pitcher Emma Haygood walks off the mound after being relieved in the sixth inning against Los Alamitos in a non-league softball game at Los Alamitos High Los Alamitos on Saturday, May 1, 2021. (Sam Gangwer, Contributing Photographer)

  • Los Alamitos shortstop Emma Sellers hauls in a short pop fly against Villa Park in a non-league softball game at Los Alamitos High Los Alamitos on Saturday, May 1, 2021. (Sam Gangwer, Contributing Photographer)

  • Los Alamitos catcher Sophia Nugent gets a low-five from head coach Rob Weil after hitting a two-run home run against Villa Park in a non-league softball game at Los Alamitos High Los Alamitos on Saturday, May 1, 2021. (Sam Gangwer, Contributing Photographer)

  • Los Alamitos pitcher Maline Anjali pitched a complete game against Villa Park, giving up only one run in a non-league softball game at Los Alamitos High Los Alamitos on Saturday, May 1, 2021. (Sam Gangwer, Contributing Photographer)

  • Los Alamitos’ Jazzy Santos slides into second base safe as Villa Park second baseman Andreya Flores can’t handle the throw in a non-league softball game at Los Alamitos High Los Alamitos on Saturday, May 1, 2021. (Sam Gangwer, Contributing Photographer)

  • Villa Park pitcher Sydney Somerndike cranks up to throw a pitch in th efirst inning against Los Alamitos in a non-league softball game at Los Alamitos High Los Alamitos on Saturday, May 1, 2021. (Sam Gangwer, Contributing Photographer)

  • Villa Park’s Courtney Alvarado is confused after being called out for running into Los Alamitos second baseman in the middle of a play in a non-league softball game at Los Alamitos High Los Alamitos on Saturday, May 1, 2021. (Sam Gangwer, Contributing Photographer)

  • Los Alamitos cathcer Sophia Nugent connects for a two-run home run against Villa Park in a non-league softball game at Los Alamitos High Los Alamitos on Saturday, May 1, 2021. (Sam Gangwer, Contributing Photographer)

  • Villa Park’s Andreya Flores celebrates hitting a double against Los Alamitos in a non-league softball game at Los Alamitos High Los Alamitos on Saturday, May 1, 2021. (Sam Gangwer, Contributing Photographer)

  • Villa Park outfielder Tessa Galvin, number 14, nearly collides with another player as she drops a bloop single by Los Alamitos’ Diamond Sefe in a non-league softball game at Los Alamitos High Los Alamitos on Saturday, May 1, 2021. (Sam Gangwer, Contributing Photographer)

  • Villa Park outfielders Riley Sandvig, left, and Claire Duckworth, right, react after a home run hit by Los Alamitos Emma Haygood in a non-league softball game at Los Alamitos High Los Alamitos on Saturday, May 1, 2021. (Sam Gangwer, Contributing Photographer)

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Los Alamitos (11-4) lost 3-1 and 1-0 earlier this week to Edison and Crescenta Valley, respectively. The previous week, the Griffins fell to Pacifica and Huntington Beach, 3-2, and, 5-4, respectively.

“We’ve been playing some good quality teams and good pitchers and we just kind of hit the wall,” Weil said of the stretch. “Hitting is contagious, up and a down the lineup. One (hit) falls, and it seems like they all fall. Today, we had a game plan with this kid, who is very talented … and were able to connect on a few balls.”

Weil said the Griffins’ approach was to stay off Somerndike’s rise ball and force the junior to bring her pitchers lower in the zone.

“She’s a rise-ball pitcher,” Weil said. “We were very disciplined.”

In the fourth, Nugent belted a 1-1 pitch to right to give Los Alamitos a 3-0 lead. The senior drove in No. 9 batter Jules Ronquillo, who reached one batter earlier on a two-out bunt single.

Los Alamitos finished with 11 hits off Somerndike (13-1), including back-to-back shots by Terrones and Haygood in a four-run seventh. It was the first home runs of the season for the left-handed hitters.

Villa Park coach Terry Williams said Somerndike was bothered by a jammed finger on her pitching hand.

“I debated not pitching her at all,” he said. “Her rise ball wasn’t working for her. … but she battled through it and tried to give us a chance.”

Los Alamitos sophomore pitcher Anjali Maline (2-0) went the distance for the Griffins, allowing only a solo home run to sophomore Claire Duckworth with two outs in the fourth. Duckworth nearly homered in the second but center fielder Erin Mendoza robbed her of the homer with a running catch at the fence.

Weil also injected plenty of base running into the Griffins’ attack. With two out in the third, Diamond Sefe stole third on a fake bunt and scored the first run when the throw from the catcher sailed down the line.

After Haygood led off the sixth with a double, Mendoza followed with a bunt single and purposely rounded first aggressively to create a rundown, which led to pinch-runner Camryn Johnson scoring from second.

“We did get a little frustrated at first (about our offensive woes) but then we started to realize we’re in this together,” Nugent said. “We had a 6 a.m. practice recently and we worked on some things and fixed things.”

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