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Five surprising contenders to watch in the CIF-SS softball playoffs

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Some of the most improved teams in Orange County softball are better known than others. Some are highly ranked in the Top 25 but that doesn’t cover all the eye-opening performances.

Here are five surprising contenders to watch in the CIF-SS playoffs:

Woodbridge (15-7-1): The Division 4 team captured its first Pacific Coast League title since 2018 by going 11-1 en route to dethroning Beckman.

Coach Jerry Rose’s squad emerged by blending its up-and-coming players with three senior starters.

Junior shortstop Anna Kim helped lead the offense by hitting .660 in league. Sophomore pitcher Mia Tamkoc went 8-1 in league with a 2.40 ERA. Senior Alexis Martinez drove in 23 runs in the Pacific Coast and played outfield and third base.

“This season was literally a group effort,” said Rose, whose team plays host to Canyon of Canyon Country (7-13) in the first round of the playoffs Thursday.

Irvine (16-9): The Vaqueros, seeded first in CIF-SS Division 5, doubled their number of league victories from 2022 by going 10-2 to place second in the Pacific Coast.

The biggest reason for the turnaround, Coach James Knapp said, is offensive production.

Freshmen Katie Liu and Harper Vandermolen energized the lineup from the leadoff and No. 3 spots, respectively. Liu is hitting .540 with four home runs while Vandermolen has six home runs and 39 RBIs.

Sophomore Abby Sasaki hit .616 in league while junior Sienna Porter has 11 home runs and 34 RBIs.

“We’re getting hits this year where last year we didn’t,” said Knapp, whose team plays at Orange Coast League champion Calvary Chapel (12-8) in the first round Thursday.

Westminster (13-12): The Division 5 team won a tiebreaker for the third and final automatic playoff entry from the Golden West League. Last season the team tied for last in the league.

Pitching is the reason, according to coach Eric Albright, for the team’s improvement. Sophomore Jocelyn Aguilar has emerged as the ace in addition to batting leadoff. She has formed a strong battery with junior catcher ChaCha Miranda, who has thrown out 63 percent of runners who try to steal and she’s hit six home runs.

Junior shortstop Kiana Salcedo helped anchor the defense for the Lions, who played at La Quinta (11-6) in the wild-card round Tuesday.

Whittier Christian (21-4): The Division 2 team graduated one of the county’s most dominant pitchers last year but haven’t slowed down.

Senior Riley Laygo took over the role of ace from Brooklyn Carreon, now at Utah, and has posted an 18-3 record.

Coach Dale Van Duyn said transfers Bobbie Lozano and Joy Jung and freshman Sofia Hernandez have played a role in the team’s success. Hernandez is hitting .529 for the Olympic League champion Heralds, who play host to West Torrance (13-12) in the first round of the playoffs Thursday.

Crean Lutheran (11-10-1): The Division 7 team placed fourth in the challenging Empire League with a 3-7 record one season after finishing 0-19, including 0-10 in league.

The Saints, seeded third for the playoffs, play at United Christian Academy of Rancho Cucamonga (3-9) in the first round Thursday.

Santa Ana Valley (9-6), a Division 7 qualifier from the Orange League, also went 0-10 in league last season.

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