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Orange County softball player of the year: Sofia Elliott, Mission Viejo

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Sometimes players improve gradually over the course of a few years. Other times they grow quickly, from one season to the next.

For Mission Viejo’s Sofia Elliott, the leap happened swiftly and dramatically this softball season

“She flipped the switch,” said Betsy Watson, wife of Diablos coach Clint Watson.

It was game on for Mission Viejo.

Elliott emerged with one of Orange County’s most potent blends of pitching and hitting. The sophomore went 22-4 with 1.84 ERA in the circle while also hitting .443 with 15 home runs and 43 RBIs.

The Mission Viejo softball team surround pitcher Sofia Elliott as they celebrate winning the CIF-SS Division 2 softball championship against Millikan at Bill Barber Park in Irvine on Friday, May 20, 2022. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

Mission Viejo pitcher Sofia Elliott delivers a pitch against Millikan...

Mission Viejo pitcher Sofia Elliott delivers a pitch against Millikan in the CIF-SS Division 2 softball championship at Bill Barber Park in Irvine on Friday, May 20, 2022. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

Mission Viejo’s Sofia Elliott, #7, is greeted by teammates after...

Mission Viejo’s Sofia Elliott, #7, is greeted by teammates after driving in a home run in the 4th inning in the CIF State SoCal Regional semifinal at Oaks Christian Friday, June 3, 2022. Oaks Christian defeated Mission Viejo 2-1. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Mission Viejo’s Sofia Elliot pitches against Oaks Christian in the...

Mission Viejo’s Sofia Elliot pitches against Oaks Christian in the CIF State SoCal Regional semifinal at Oaks Christian Friday, June 3, 2022. Oaks Christian defeated Mission Viejo 2-1. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Mission Viejo sophomore pitcher Sofia Elliott fired a two-hitter with...

Mission Viejo sophomore pitcher Sofia Elliott fired a two-hitter with eight strikeouts and added a RBI triple to lead the Diablos to a 2-1 win against Millikan in the CIF-SS Division 2 softball final on Friday in Irvine. (Photo by Dan Albano, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Mission Viejo’s pitcher Sofia Elliott, right, runs into the arms...

Mission Viejo’s pitcher Sofia Elliott, right, runs into the arms of Hailey Gald as the Diablos win the CIF-SS Division 2 softball championship against Millikan at Bill Barber Park in Irvine on Friday, May 20, 2022. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

She also led the Diablos (26-6) to the CIF-SS Division 2 title and the Division I semifinals of the CIF Southern California championships.

The output was a striking contrast to her freshman season and makes her The Register’s Orange County Player of the Year.

“She’s tough,” Gahr coach Rey Sanchez said of Elliott, who was also selected the CIF-SS Division 2 player of the year and South Coast League MVP. “She’s very confident in her ability.”

That ability blossomed this spring.

Elliott started by helping the Diablos win their first 10 games. She then highlighted the team’s South Coast League title run by tossing a three-hitter with 13 strikeouts in a 2-0 triumph at San Juan Hills in 11 innings.

Elliott saved her best for the postseason. She earned the pitching victory in all five of Mission Viejo’s playoff games, allowing only one run.

Her dual-threat skills shined in the Division 2 title game. She drove in the Diablos’ first run with a triple in the first inning and went on to fire a two-hitter with eight strikeouts in a 2-1 win against Millikan.

Elliott didn’t slow down in the Division I regional playoffs. She helped lead the Diablos past CIF-SS Division 1 semifinalist Gahr 13-2 in the first round. In the semifinals, she belted a solo home run and pitched well in a 2-1 loss to eventual regional champion Oaks Christian.

“She’s a competitor,” Clint Watson said. “I’ve got the best pitcher in Division 2.”

The 2021 season was shortened by the pandemic. In 17 games, Elliott batted .327 with one home run and went 4-2 with a 3.13 ERA.

She attributes her dramatic improvement this season to maturity, technical adjustments and the support of her teammates.

“This year, I got a lot more mature,” she said. “This game is a lot of the mental stuff.”

At the plate, Elliott said she corrected a habit of pulling off pitches. She drove more balls to center and the gap in right. In the circle, she displayed improved control and spin on her pitches, two traits she has honed under longtime pitching coach Toni Paisley.

Elliott walked 25 in 144 1/3 innings.

But most of all, she connected with catcher Hailey Gald and embraced senior leaders Shayna Glass and Sammi Woods.

Glass often gave Elliott a hug and words of encouragement on the way to taking her position in center field.

Elliott was in tears after the CIF finale, describing the impact of her teammates on her breakout season.

“We play for each other,” she said. “The team chemistry is really amazing with us.”

And so was Sofia Elliott’s growth.

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