Valencia softball faces another vaunted opponent in quarterfinal

Valencia pitcher Shea O'Leary pitches against Foothill at Valencia on Tuesday. Dan Watson/For The Signal

It’s hard to believe. But it may very well be true.

Valencia High softball may face a more daunting challenge in today’s CIF-Southern Section Division 1 quarterfinal at Orange Lutheran than it did in last season’s quarters.

Back then, the Vikings faced a highly-ranked Norco team with an NCAA Division 1 pitcher-to-be and a lineup dotted with future D1 players.

Fast forward 364 days, and Valencia will play a No. 3 seed led by Stanford-bound pitcher Maddy Dwyer and a lineup with players headed to Louisiana State, Ohio State, Cal Berkeley and Washington.

MORE: Valencia softball moving on to quarterfinals

Orange Lutheran (27-4), ranked No. 10 in the nation and No. 3 in the state by MaxPreps, has a team batting average of .371 and has won 20 of its last 22 games.

“We’re really going to have to play a solid defensive game,” said Valencia coach Donna Lee, whose team is 24-7 overall and has won 14 straight games. “(Pitcher) Shea (O’Leary) is going to have to hit her spots.”

Fortunately for the Vikings, O’Leary, a University of Texas commit, has been on point all season. She owns a 1.26 ERA in 205 2/3 innings. She’s struck out 236 and walked 30.

Her catcher, University of Tennessee commit Ally Shipman, has a .636 average with 15 home runs and 39 RBIs.

She’s walked 33 times, though, meaning the offensive onu­­s may again fall to the team’s other hitters.

Shortstop Noel Dominguez, a College of Charleston commit, is hitting .337 with 13 RBIs. Left fielder Kelia Paragas is at .313 with 19 RBIs.

Valencia is hitting .266 as a team.

“We can’t keep starting our bats at the end of the game like we usually do,” Paragas said after Tuesday’s second-round win over Foothill of Santa Ana. “So, getting on the board, on top, very early was very important.”

The Vikings last advanced to the semifinals in 2010, a year in which they beat Orange Lutheran in the quarterfinals.

In last season’s quarters, Valencia lost, 2-1, to Norco, with the winning run scoring in the sixth inning.

Lee pointed to the Vikings’ youth after the game: a clear sign that Valencia had a chance to return.

It did so by earning a second straight Foothill League title and by winning back-to-back playoff games by 2-0 scores.

Orange Lutheran’s lineup will be the most challenging O’Leary has faced this postseason.

Ohio State commit Mya Rodriguez boasts a .458 batting average and is 9-for-9 on stolen base attempts.

Lauren Espalin (Cal), Ciara Briggs (LSU) and Noelle Hee (Washington) are all dangerous.

Dwyer holds a 1.20 ERA with 190 strikeouts in 158 innings.

“Any team can be beaten any given day,” Lee said. “Our job is to go out there and be the team that beats them.”

First pitch is scheduled for 3:15 p.m.

Signal staff writer Haley Sawyer contributed reporting to this story.

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