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El Dorado Provides Blueprint for Norco

June 06, 2003|Martin Henderson | Times Staff Writer

Norco will try to repeat history when the unseeded Cougars take on Whittier California in the Southern Section Division II championship softball game Saturday at Barber Park in Irvine.

Last year, Placentia El Dorado hardly registered a blip on the playoff radar before winning the Division II title.

Norco (22-8) is coming off 1-0 victories over third-seeded Anaheim Canyon and second-seeded Chino Don Lugo, Daniela Urincho's seventh and eighth shutouts in the last nine games. Not bad for a team that finished third in the Mountain View League.

Overshadowed in league by champion Corona Santiago, which ended the regular season ranked No. 1 in the Southland by The Times, and Corona, the Cougars got hot when it counted.

The final week of the season, Norco scored a 5-0 win over Corona on Urincho's two-hitter. Then came the playoffs, and a 2-1 victory over Redlands East Valley and a 7-0 win over San Bernardino Cajon, both league champions. Next up is California (27-5-1).

Urincho is 20-6 with a 0.67 earned-run average. The Norco offense has been bolstered with the return of Brianna Goad to the leadoff spot and Ursula Lopez's moving from leadoff to No. 5 in the order. Goad had missed more than a month with a broken leg.

"It's the team we expected to see all year," said Coach Rick Robinson of Norco, which has only one senior, second baseman Jamie Lowe. "We were losing those one-run games. We knew the team was there, we just hadn't been performing. I think we're [now] surprising everybody but ourselves.

"The Corona win was huge for us because it gave us confidence going into the playoffs. I don't think we had a quality win before that. Whenever we went up against those ranked teams or the ones with winning records, we just weren't getting it done."

Another team whose pedigree didn't inspire thoughts of a championship matchup is La Mirada (26-5), which is playing top-seeded and No. 2-ranked Garden Grove Pacifica (30-2) for the Division III title.

La Mirada is making its first appearance in a title game since 1991, having upset second-seeded Hacienda Heights Wilson.

The Matadores' success can be traced to the emergence of sophomore pitcher Alyssa Gutierrez, who is 16-3 with a 0.47 earned-run average. It was in a 3-2, 19-inning victory over Lakewood Mayfair in the second round of Suburban League play that Coach Rich Trujillo realized Gutierrez gave his team a chance to go all the way.

"She came in with two outs in the third inning with the bases loaded, none out, and struck out the 2-3-4 hitters," Trujillo said. "I thought, 'It's turned.' This was the girl we were going to ride."

The Matadores have five three-year starters on a junior-laden team that has largely been together since they were 8-year-olds.

They have won at least 20 games three years in a row but were first-round losers the last two seasons.

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