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Santa Ana Foothill Strongly Favored

Softball preview: Only one starter lost from a 33-2 team.


Preseason prognostications about softball, especially those designating a top team, are invariably a source of debate.

Not this year.

Santa Ana Foothill, the defending Southern Section Division I champion, is regarded as the top team in the state.

The Knights, under Coach Joe Gonzales, play the state's most challenging schedule and are an overwhelming favorite to repeat as champion in the section's largest division.

Several of the pitchers who dominated for other Southland schools the last few years have moved on to college, but several are back.

Here is a look at 10 teams to watch:

1. SANTA ANA FOOTHILL (33-2): Courtney Fossatti was 23-1 with a 0.42 earned-run average last season and batted .360 with 29 runs batted in. Elizabeth Bendig was 10-1. Both are back for a team that lost only one starter.

Senior second baseman Erin Mobley, junior center fielder Autumn Champion and sophomore outfielder Caitlin Lowe are other top players.

2. CRESCENTA VALLEY (29-2): Second baseman Ashley Powell and third baseman Melanie McCauley are the only starting position players back from last season's team that advanced to the Division II semifinals.

However, with Long Beach State-bound Meredith Cervenka on the mound, Crescenta Valley will be formidable. Cervenka had 370 strikeouts in 208 innings and gave up only one earned run while going 28-2.

3. SANTA ANA MATER DEI (32-2): The Monarchs probably won't boast the dominant pitching that has characterized the program the last few years, but Mater Dei has an experienced and versatile team with seven returning starters.

Junior Marissa Becerra could be the ace and shortstop Christina Clark might also pitch.

Junior third baseman Sheila McCorkle and senior left fielder Jessica Young are other experienced starters.

4. THOUSAND OAKS (24-6-1): The Lancers are one of the favorites in Division II after advancing to the semifinals last season.

Nicole Angelo was 25-5 with 17 shutouts last season as a junior. Other top returning players are third baseman Sheridan Fowler and catcher Jenni Perez.

5. GARDEN GROVE PACIFICA (24-9-1): The Mariners' string of consecutive titles ended at three last season, but with four all-league players among seven returning starters they are expected to challenge for their fourth in five years.

Pitcher Jessica Marical, who was 17-2 with a 0.92 ERA, third baseman Mallorie Lenn, catcher Angie Ortega and shortstop Jodie Legaspi are the Mariners' top players.

6. ALISO NIGUEL (19-8): Third baseman Jessica Vernaglia, who batted .448 last season, shortstop Erin Wallace (.404), center fielder Shannon Anderson (.356) and left fielder Kalena Peterson (.323)--all seniors--lead the Wolverines, who won the Sea View League last season and are primed for a playoff run.

Sophomore Amanda Samonte was 13-5 with a 0.84 ERA last season.

7. SAN BERNARDINO CAJON (20-7): The Cowboys are an emerging power in the Inland Empire and are regarded as the favorite to win the San Andreas League--and possibly more.

8. WEST HILLS CHAMINADE (18-13): The Eagles advanced to the Division IV championship game last season, and they may have enough to win it this season.

Junior pitcher Christina Lapacchini could be dominant.

First baseman Lindsey Weinstein is the top player on offense.

9. CARSON (25-8): Junior slugger Adrienne Alo leads the Colts, who advanced to the City final the last two years.

Carson lost to Woodland Hills El Camio Real in 1999. Last year, the Colts lost to San Pedro, 1-0, in a 20-inning game played over two days.

10. SIMI VALLEY (19-10): Sophomore Mandy Kilionski struck out 14 and pitched a one-hitter in the Pioneers' opener and could take them far.

Nicole Brazier and Nicole Gutierrez are standouts on offense.

Staff writer Martin Henderson contributed to this story.

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