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Don't Count Out Longshots : Top Softball Teams Can't Afford to Ignore Unseeded Ones


They make wonderful stories. The team that sparks at just the right time and then rides that lightning bolt to a string of upsets in the playoffs.

Sometimes, they get a title. Sometimes, they just get close.

They are the longshots, the teams no one looked at too seriously when the Southern Section softball playoff pairings were released Monday.

They might appear unchallenging. They might be unseeded. But as of today, they are not uninspired.

Every season, some team gets hot in all the right places. And in a sport such as softball, where games are often lost because of the low margin for error, it really is anybody's game.

Canyon proved it last year, when it finished second in the Century League, then reached the Division I semifinals. Brea Olinda, the Orange League champion that gained little respect through its nonleague schedule, lost after 16 innings in the Division III semifinals to top-seeded Upland--and finally got that credibility.

Sometimes, the longshots don't come up short. In 1995, unseeded Woodbridge won the Division II title with a victory over Lakewood, 4-3, in eight innings.

But the best example in recent times of a longshot winning the big one is the 1994 Fullerton team. The Indians began the playoffs with a 14-13 record--worse than all but two teams in the Division II field. Then they won five in a row, three of them in extra innings--including a 4-1, 10-inning victory over La Puente Bishop Amat in the championship game. They beat the fourth-, first- and third-seeded teams.

Who's next?

The best chance for an unseeded county team to win a section title probably comes in Division I or III.

In Division I, there are plenty of talented teams. In Division III, 12 of the 32 teams are from Orange County.

Up until the final week of the season, Bolsa Grande was a great longshot pick in Division IV. The Matadors weren't even in the Southern Section Coaches Top 10 poll two weeks ago. Today, they're seeded second. Talk about a team coming out of nowhere.

The main reason is Mary Petrie, a left-handed pitcher with a knack for making Bolsa Grande competitive against schools typically much stronger than those it will have to beat to win a section championship.

"We're not looking to take first place [in the Garden Grove League], but to go into [the section playoffs] strong," Petrie said two weeks ago. "We can take it. And if not, we can get into the finals."

When the playoffs begin, everyone thinks they have a chance--and some really do.

"Day after day, we shouldn't be ranked with Pacifica, Mater Dei and Woodbridge," Kennedy Coach Sue Hall said, whose team is seeded in Division III against Pacifica, ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today. "But that's not to say we couldn't beat any of them. We're no pushover."

Same story for Division III Ocean View. The Seahawks went through the season without much fanfare, but played a tough nonleague schedule, jelled at the right time and went unbeaten in the Golden West League trying to prove themselves. Now, they can really prove themselves.

"You need good pitching, timely hitting, great defense and a little bit of luck," Ocean View Coach John Sansone said. "Last year, we had no luck. This year, we're getting the bounce of the ball."

Canyon Coach Lance Eddy said luck had everything to do with his team's run last year.

"We won three coin flips [for home advantage]," said Eddy, whose team survived an 18-inning first-round game against El Dorado. "When we got [third-seeded] Newbury Park at home, that was huge."

Canyon, second in the Century League again but in Division III instead of Division I, won't be the only team with a chance to surprise a favorite along the way.

La Habra is a threat, with catcher Jenny Topping capable of hitting a home run any time she comes to the plate.

And Western, the Orange League champion, wouldn't be disappointed to find itself in the same circumstances that befell last year's league champion. Before the 1996 semifinals, Brea Olinda defeated three teams that had been expected to lose in the first round.

In Division I, El Toro is a great longshot pick. The Chargers, beaten in the final game of the season by Irvine, are the third-place team from the Sea View League after losing a coin flip to Irvine. El Toro has lost seven games this season--four to Woodbridge, top-seeded in Division II. Last week, they were ranked fifth in their division. Wednesday, they play a wild-card game.

Knowing they won't face the Warriors in the playoffs, El Toro could find itself playing for a while.

A second-place team that might surprise is Marina. The Vikings are making their first Division I playoff appearance since Marcy Crouch, who graduated two years ago, led them to consecutive section titles. There is no dominant player like Crouch to rely on. Sometimes that makes a team tougher.

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