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Valencia Softball Ranked Number One in the Nation
July, 2007 - Issue #33
In light of the kind of year our local high school athletes enjoyed in 2006-2007, you could argue that the Valencia softball team topped it off in fitting, if not inevitable, fashion.

First, there was the Saugus girls cross country team, which won its California state title in November. Weeks later, the Canyon football team followed suit, capturing the state championship with an upset win over previously undefeated Concord de la Salle.

On June 2, the Vikings put the cherry on top - way on top. Behind the 24th shutout (and fifth consecutive) from University of Michigan-bound senior pitcher Jordan Taylor, Valencia knocked off Hart in the CIF-Southern Section Division championship game at Irvine's Deanna Manning Stadium.

By virtue of the win, which capped off a 32-1 campaign, the Lady Vikings secured a national title, finishing atop both the USA Today and StudentSports.com national polls.

Valencia becomes just the second team in the history of Santa Clarita Valley prep sports to wear a national crown. The Hart boys cross country team won a national title in 1991.

"Did I think we were going to be this good? No," said Viking head coach Donna Lee. "Everything seemed to just click this year."

Most notably, there was Taylor, the Vikings' ace. Based on her season statistics alone, you could safely assume a successful season for Valencia.

Her record? 32-0.

Her earned run average? .194.

Her strikeout-to-walk ratio? 406-to-45.

Taylor tossed 216 innings in 2006 and allowed just 74 hits. She dominated, and Valencia dominated along with her.

"I was really surprised and elated for Hart. They did such a great job in the playoffs. You have to GIVE THEM CREDIT."
~ Valencia Viking Head Coach Donna Lee
"Any team, you build around your pitcher," Lee said. "I really think she felt that this year she had eight girls behind her. She knew, 'If I make a mistake, they'll clean it up.'"

According to Lee, the ability of this particular group of girls to succeed where previously favored Viking teams had fallen short had a lot to do with chemistry.

"I knew early on that we had to get everyone on the same page," Lee said. "In softball, it's never a question of ability. You have to get along, and sometimes that's tough. That's what we did this year. Team chemistry - that was the difference."

Lee credits a season-opening trip to Arizona for helping the team gel.

The Vikings traveled to the Tournament of Champions on March 8 and went on to post six consecutive victories - all shutouts - to win the tournament against some of the country's best teams. In the finals, Valencia defeated Canyon del Oro of Tucson, the number-one ranked team in the country at the time.

"When we were in Arizona, I saw the team come together," Lee said. "You could just see it in their faces. Being in that venue was so good for them. It really forced them to get along."

From there, the Vikings unleashed themselves on the rest of the field.

In 33 games, they outscored the opposition by a staggering 171-18 clip. The team's lone loss - a 4-3 setback to Camarillo on March 20 - came in the second game of a double-header - a game in which Taylor didn't pitch, a game Valencia wasn't exactly pressing to win.

"They kept most of their starters in and we let most of our non-starters play," Taylor said. "I know a loss is a loss. But it didn't really feel like a loss."

That's especially true considering Valencia had beaten Camarillo's best, 2-1, on the same field an hour before.

Not that Camarillo was a pushover. Heading into the final week of the season, the Scorpions (28-2) were ranked number two to the Vikings' number one in both national polls.

The teams seemed destined for a national-title showdown in the CIF-SS Division I championships until Hart stunned the Scorpions, 5-4, in the section quarterfinals.

The Indians rode the momentum all the way to the finals, but had no answer for the Vikings.

"I was really surprised and elated for Hart," Lee said. "They did such a great job in the playoffs. You have to give them credit."

Camarillo's sudden departure from the section and from the national title stage only underscores the magnitude of Valencia's accomplishment. In softball, you can have the best pitcher and you can have the most feared lineup of hitters. But, as Lee puts it, "You have to get a little lucky."

A ball that glances off the end of a hitter's bat can land for an RBI single, while a liner off the sweet spot finds a fielder's glove. That's how thin the margin can be. That's how hard it is to win consistently.

But winning is something the Vikings did with astounding regularity in 2006. And they did it in numerous ways.

Sure, Taylor was dominant. But she only pitches. Someone had to push runs across.

"It wasn't going to make or break our season if we weren't RANKED NUMBER ONE. We wanted the CIF title. But we got both, so that's great. It's cool to be recognized in that way."
~ Valencia Pitcher Jordan Taylor
In 2006 for Valencia, that someone was just about everyone. In the finals against Hart, it was senior shortstop Alyssa Ishibashi who knocked in the winning run with a two-out single in the fifth inning.

Against Santiago High of Corona in the CIF semifinals, it was senior right fielder Kristen Aidem, going 1-for-3 with the lone RBI in a 1-0 win.

And in an extra-inning affair against Marina of Huntington Beach in the quarterfinals, it was Ishibashi who came through with a bases-loaded, game-winning single in the tenth.

Ishibashi hit .381 for Valencia. Teammates Jessica Spigner and Nicole Matson hit .418 and .412, respectively. Both Spigner and Matson led Valencia with four home runs.

It was a team effort.

"We wanted to come out and win everything," Taylor said. "We set a goal to go undefeated and we basically ended up getting that goal. [Winning the championship] was definitely a big moment in my life. It was great to enjoy it with such a great group of girls. It wasn't going to make or break our season if we weren't ranked number one. We wanted the CIF title. But we got both, so that's great. It's cool to be recognized in that way."

That recognition came, officially, in the form of USA Today's final national high school softball poll. It's something Lee and her girls were happy to see - over and over.

"I'll have to see how many copies [of the paper] 7-11 gets in," Lee joked in the days following her team's big win. "I'll have to see if I can order more for the kids so they can frame them."

She might consider framing one or two for herself, too.
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