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Previewing every CIF Southern Section softball championship game (Division 1-7)

Norco is the favorite in Division 1, but it will face steep competition from Pacifica (Garden Grove)

The 2023 CIFSS softball championships are taking place this weekend. Here's a look at all seven title games.


It's a story we've seen before – Norco making it look easy on the way to the CIFSS Division 1 softball finals. 

The Cougars are 27-3 with wins over many of the best teams in the state including Los Alamitos (twice), Orange Lutheran, Riverside Poly, Murrieta Mesa, and Esperanza.They're led by might be the best offense in the state, and is certainly the best offense in SoCal. They score an average of 8.2 runs per game despite playing one of the state's toughest schedules. Mya Perez, who's hit 12 home runs, is as good as it gets at the plate, and it's a deep lineup. There's Dakota Potter, Florida-bound third baseman Alyssa Hovermale who's taken a big leap as a senior, UCSB commit Katie Terrazas, and just so many players who can have a big night at the plate for Norco.

With that said, what has enabled Norco to be even better this season than last is improved work in the circle and field. Idaho State commit Marley Goluskin has taken a substantial leap as a senior, and is one of the most dominant pitchers in the California when she's on top of her game. She isn't overpowering, but she has one of the best arrays of off-speed pitches in the state, especially her breaking balls, and can throw any pitch in any count. It makes her a perfect fit for a Norco coaching staff that loves attacking hitters by surprising hitters with off-speed pitches at unexpected times and overall mixing up pitch selections against hitters from at-bat to at-bat and game to game. Against explosive Murrieta Mesa – which went off for nine runs against her last year in the playoffs – Goluskin threw a three-hitter with just one run allowed.

Goluskin isn't exceptionally consistent, but she's been bringing her A-game every night for a while now, and she generally tends to step up in key games against Norco's best opponents. If she can keep her heater down in the the strike zone, she can disrupt any offense, and Norco would once again be very tough to beat. Sophomore Kimberly Neal and Mya Perez are the other potential key names for Norco in the circle.

So, Pacifica comes in as the underdog despite not exactly being anyone's idea of an underdog ranked No. 4 in the state. The Mariners struggled with consistency during some of the regular season, but it's hard to imagine that anyone has doubted their ability to contend for a section title. Of their eight losses, two came back-to-back against Esperanza in their first two games of the season, four came against teams that they would later beat (Los Alamitos twice, Kennedy-La Palma, Cypress), and another (Murrieta Mesa) came against a team that they'd already beaten. The only other was against current statewide No. 1 Saint Francis (Mountain View). As they're currently on a six-game tear with wins over Kennedy, Cypress, Bonita, La Mirada, Los Al, and Oaks Christian, they're just as hot as Norco, which was upset by La Mirada in non-league play since the last time Pacifica lost a game.

The Mariners aren't as prolific at the plate as Norco, but they still have no shortage of power, as highlighted by UCLA commit Kaniya Bragg, Delaina Ma'ae, and Annika Sogsti. Nonetheless, Pacifica will be looking for another gem from one of the state's best pitchers, Long Beach State commit Brynne Nally. 

With one of SoCal's top defenses behind her, she's been a machine, sporting a 1.76 ERA in 135.1 innings playing a very tough schedule. Nally is a prototypical flamethrower, standing 5-10 with a mid-60s fastball, breaking balls with heavy rise and sink, and nightly consistency. She's not impervious to getting lit up by elite offenses, but she almost never fails to keep her team in the game, and almost all of Pacifica's losses resulted from quiet offensive nights. In her last two games, she held Oaks Christian and Los Alamitos to a combined four runs and three unearned runs. On top of it, she's a good hitter.

Inarguably, Norco is the favorite in this one. But even the Cougars would tell you that regardless of those early-season losses, Pacifica is currently playing as good softball as anyone in the state.


This matchup, unlike some of the others, projects to be a tossup, and features two teams that just debuted in our statewide top 25.

No. 19 Grand Terrace hasn't lost a game since April 1, and its offense has been almost uncontainable. Throughout its current 13-game winning streak, it's averaging just under 13 runs scored per game to 2.6 allowed. That means Grand Terrace has been winning games by an average of over ten runs per game despite playing good competition. The Titans' playoff opener was one of the only games all season in which they seriously struggled with pitching and defense, but their offense picked them up as they outlasted Yucaipa 14-13. In the next game, they only mustered three runs, but that was enough to shut out Valley View 3-0 in an upset. Since then they've defeated scorching-hot Whittier Christian 7-6 and reigning champion Tesoro 10-3, both of which were coming off perhaps their best wins of the season.

While No. 25 Great Oak doesn't have quite as clean of a season-wide resume, it has been playing just as dangerous softball in recent times as Grand Terrace. Great Oak finished the regular season with 41 combined runs in three league wins over Temecula Valley and Chaparral (twice) to upset Vista Murrieta for a No. 2 finish in the difficult Southwestern League. Since then, its pitching has taken center stage in four playoff wins against Arcadia (5-0), Ayala (2-1), California-Whittier (3-0), and Moorpark (7-0). And Great Oak has star power – junior ace Miali Gauchino is committed to Ole Miss and playing some of the best softball of her life right now. For that reason, one could argue either team to be a slight favorite in this one, but there's not much separating these underrated Inland Empire powerhouses.


Like the Division 2 title game, the D3 championship appears to be tossup as well between two teams who had extremely different regular seasons. 

Santiago played one of the unequivocal toughest schedules in Southern California, maybe a top-ten schedule in the whole state. It beat Norco, Corona Centennial, and Roosevelt once each in league play, so its dangerousness is undeniable. And while the Sharks' overall record is uninspiring, they unexpectedly had to catch fire down the stretch just to stay afloat, as so many of their losses early in the season came to underrated teams that eventually proved to be great or even elite. Put it all together, and Santiago is as battle-tested as it gets, featuring a deep lineup that has tons of pop and a workhorse pitcher in Emily Delgado.

On the other hand, Capistrano Valley didn't play nearly as hard of a regular season, but it still played no shortage of good teams and beat most of them. Five of its six losses came by one run and the other came by two, all to good teams. Perhaps the scariest thing about Capo on paper is what it's done this postseason – beating Louisville, Etiwanda, and Empire League heavyweights Cypress and Kennedy (La Palma) – both of whom beat Pacifica (Garden Grove) once in league play. The Cougars rely heavily on one of the best two-way stars in Orange County and beyond, junior Madi McDonald.


The best team that probably wasn't on your radar heading into this season – but that you can get used to hearing about – is Fullerton. After missing the playoffs last year, the Indians went 19-6 during the regular season and have allowed one total run in four playoff wins against San Jacinto, Summit, Long Beach Poly, and Burroughs (Burbank). Fullerton is led primarily by underclassmen, including elite freshman pitcher/hitter Malaya Majam-Finch, and has still managed to be very consistent. Majam-Finch shoulders a heavy load as starting pitcher and the team's best offensive threat, but she's been up for the task. When Fullerton has struggled, it's been a result of quiet offensive nights. To wit, four of its six losses came in a stretch of five league games when the bats cooled off for just eight total runs. But the Indians have lost just one game in which they score four runs, and not one in which they've scored more.

Foothill, on the other hand, isn't much of a surprise appearing in the Division 4 finals. The Knights have one played one of the hardest schedules in the section outside of the top couple divisions, and it's been clear all season that they're simply one of the most dangerous teams in that category. With wins over statewide No. 11 Hollister, Clovis East, Villa Park, Canyon (Anaheim) it's almost impossible to make an argument that Foothill isn't a favorite here, but the gap on paper isn't huge. Foothill doesn't possess devastating power, but it has an exceptional team-wide OBP of .400 even with the schedule it has played. That marks a great combination with starting pitcher Lauren Mendez, who rarely has outings that explode off the box score but is about as reliable as it gets with a 2.37 ERA in over 200 innings. The Knights almost always get her at least a few runs to work with, and she keeps them in just about every game.


The good news for Bison fans? Where to start. Heading into the CIFSS finals, their team has only lost one game since the first week of March, and it came against a top-25 team in the state in Valley View. Their last loss before that was also against a dominant team, Ramona (Riverside), and the two teams they failed to beat in February (a loss to Hillcrest-Riverside, tie against Indio), are no slouches either. And like a surprising number of this year's finalists, Liberty's team is nearly all underclassmen, possessing a dominant freshman class. The Bison have been even more dangerous in recent months since a number of their top position players debuted after missing the first half of the season, including Kaylee Fraund and Saige Shipman.

That makes Irvine an underdog in this one, but like Liberty, the Vaqueros are playing their best softball of the season at the right time. On their current 11-game winning streak, they've outscored opponents 121-21, and with their explosive lineup, they can't ever be counted out. Irvine is seasoned from playing a lot of big-name opponents in the top divisions, and while many of those games resulted in losses during the first half of the season, by this time of year they mostly just translate to experience.


At 27-3, the Huskies have been remarkably consistent despite relying heavily on freshmen. That includes two-way star Remi Martinez, who is 13-2 with a 1.92 ERA in over 100 innings of work. Martinez is one of the team's top hitters too, with three 3 runs, 41 RBIs, and a .759 slugging percentage. With that said, her .482 batting average is basically par for the course on this team – North is hitting .480 as a team with nearly every starter batting over .400.

On the other hand, the Crusaders have done a great job taking care of business against lower level teams this season, but they've struggled with teams of North's caliber. And that makes them the underdog. Village Christian has a dominant two-way star in Bree Brennan (231 K's and 1.32 ERA in 129.2 innings, .589 BA with 4 homers and 38 runs scored), plus a few other serious power threats at the plate, so if VC can contain North's deep lineup and set the table for its sluggers, it could very well be in this game.


One of the most interesting stories of the softball season, Ganesha – with almost no seniors on the roster – is on the brink of an undefeated run after going 8-11 in 2022. As if being 15-0 isn't enough, the Giants have outscored opponents by a combined 221-6. No, that's not a typo, as sophomore Kalena Lemus has allowed just one earned run and five total this season in 61 innings. Ganesha has played a relatively easy schedule, but that shocking level of dominance makes them the clear favorite here.

That said, don't count out Ontario. The Jaguars are 16-8 playing a more difficult schedule, and half of their losses have come by one run. They've put an absolute hurting on many of the lower-level teams they've played, and won their four playoff games by a combined 57-3. Sophomore Angelina Garcia (1.62 ERA in 138 innings) has been outstanding in the circle all season, and should be able to give her team a chance if they can score more than a couple runs.