Five storylines to follow this weekend in the CIF-SS softball championships – Orange County Register

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Championship weekend in CIF-SS softball is approaching, and the storylines are plentiful for Orange County.

There’s the all-county Division 1 final between No. 1 Orange Lutheran and No. 2 Pacifica on Friday, and Oxford Academy’s first appearance in a section final on Saturday.

Here are five themes to watch for at Deanna Manning Stadium in Irvine this weekend:

Will Pacifica’s Fab 5 seniors finish on top?

They arrived at Pacifica together. They stuck together through highs and lows, including a Division 1 title last season. But how will seniors Brynne Nally, Kayli Counts, Annika Sogsti, Delaina Ma’ae and Kaniya Bragg finish their 15th and final CIF-SS playoff game?

The group has accomplished a lot but again geared its goals this spring toward to winning this championship game.

“We want to end our last high school season winning it all again,” Bragg said before the season.

The five seniors, all bound for Division I college programs, have a chance to do something special Friday. Pacifica has won a county-record eight section titles but has never claimed back-to-back Division 1 titles.

If Pacifica accomplishes its goal, it might be because of experience and execution.

Can Orange Lutheran get over the Division 1 hump?

Orange Lutheran has featured some of the county’s best players in recent years. Players such as Ciara Briggs (LSU), Miranda Stoddard (Arizona) and Kiki Estrada (South Carolina). The Lancers have dominated the Trinity League and played well at the top tournaments but a Division 1 title has been elusive.

Orange Lutheran has expressed a different vibe this season. The Lancers’ lineup features one major star but makes a lot of contact. One rival coach calls the offense “scrappy.”

Orange Lutheran also shows that attitude in the circle and on defense, so expect the Trinity League team to play well.

The Lancers, after all, are 1-1 against Pacifica this season.

Will the Orange County Pitcher of the Year award be determined by the Division 1 final?

It’s a stellar pitching matchup in the Division 1 final with Orange Lutheran’s Brianne Weiss against Pacifica’s Brynne Nally. The college-bound seniors are arguably the top two candidates for O.C. Pitcher of the Year.

Weiss, who earned the award last season, is 19-1 with a 0.75 and 234 strikeouts 130 1/3 innings. She’s headed to Notre Dame.

Pacifica's Brynne Nally pitches during a 15-9 win over Norco during the CIF-SS Division 1 championship game between the two teams on Friday, May 19, 2023. (Photo by Jeff Antenore, Contributing Photographer)
Pacifica’s Brynne Nally pitches during a 15-9 win over Norco during the CIF-SS Division 1 championship game between the two teams on Friday, May 19, 2023. (Photo by Jeff Antenore, Contributing Photographer)

Nally, the CIF-SS Division 1 player of the year last season, is 21-2 with a 1.05 ERA and 125 strikeouts in 120 innings. She signed with Long Beach State.

Weiss enters the final as the leader for the award but Nally could be tough to deny if she’s holding the winning ball again on Friday.

What will Orange Lutheran’s Kai Minor do under the championship lights?

The speedy junior committed to Oklahoma is one of the most exciting players in Orange County.

Remember her slap-triple to left against Villa Park as a freshman that lifted the Lancers to a stunning playoff victory? Think of all her diving and leaping catches in center field.

Now, one of the top recruits in the Class of 2025 is playing under the CIF championship lights for the first time.

She brings a .426 average into the final and the ability to change the game with her speed, power and defense.

“Keeping Kai off base is a major priority for us since she creates havoc … with her speed,” Pacifica coach Tony Arduino said.

Pacifica counters with its own speedy outfielder. Freshman left fielder Mattea Stern bats leadoff and has 20 stolen bases.

Will Oxford Academy capture its first section title?

The Patriots, the top seed in Division 7, have averaged 13 runs en route to their first section final but offense isn’t what coach Bob Whitney usually mentions first.

He stresses defense in support of freshman ace Emily Ganguly (22-4).

If Oxford Academy is going to defeat Eastside of Lancaster on Saturday, it will need strong defense starting with the freshman third baseman Mia Sierra, freshman shortstop Daniela Perez, sophomore second baseman Mikaela Woo and junior first baseman Danelia Paniagua.

Oxford Academy features a senior catcher in Ella Pace, who is committed to Division III MIT.

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