Saugus, Valencia softball compete against best in national at weekend tournament

McKenna Gibson, left, hit three home runs in Saugus softball’s 9-2 win over Casteel in the Tournament of Champions. Gracie Keene, right, started the same game off with a home run. Photo courtesy Saugus softball

The annual Dave Kops Tournament of Champions features some of the top softball teams in the nation. Every game is a big game at the event, which took place in Bullhead City, Arizona, and Saugus started the tournament in the biggest way they could.

On Thursday, the Centurions beat Casteel of Queen Creek, Arizona, 9-2, to open the weekend with McKenna Gibson hitting three home runs in the contest.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen someone hit three home runs in one game, so that was huge for her and our team,” said Saugus coach Julie Archer. “I was kind of shocked that a kid could do that. It was a good start for sure to the tournament.”

Gibson finished the tournament, which ran from Thursday to Saturday, with a .500 batting average, five home runs and 11 RBIs.

Hope Lusk, the No. 9 hitter in the Cents’ batting order, ended the weekend with the best batting average on the team at .700 after hitting 7-for-10 with three home runs and four RBIs.

“I just wanted to show what I have and start off the year good and just confident going into league and to the playoffs,” Lusk said. “I’ve been trying to get on just to bring it back to the top of the lineup because we have one of our biggest hitters batting first, so I try to get on so we can score.”

Saugus also had a major win against Chino Hills, which is currently the No. 8 softball team in the country, according to, on Saturday.

The game was tied 7-7 heading into the final inning. With the bases loaded, Dallas Andrews hit a single for the walk-off win.

“We never gave up,” Lusk said. “We just stayed focused and we just kept getting runners on base … when they were hitting, we never gave up and we stayed focused.”

The Centurions ended the tournament 3-2 and lost a tough game, 7-6, in an international tiebreaker against La Mirada to close out the weekend. They scored a total of 29 runs in the tournament and had four players hit .500 or over.

“My offense,” Archer said of what stood out the most to her. “We scored a lot of runs. My offense has been doing the job and getting things done, so looking forward to seeing that continue.”

MORE: Saugus softball takes tournament win for undefeated start

Valencia also competed at the Tournament of Champions, an event that it has one four times in the past.

The Vikings went 2-3 in the tournament and saw standout performances from underclassmen like Cheyanne Marxer and Emma Seper, who are both sophomores.

“(Marxer) was the RBI leader for the weekend,” said Valencia coach Donna Lee. “She was on fire definitely. If we can get everybody else on fire, we can beat anybody. Right now we only have a couple people that are seeing the ball well.”

Valencia, which is 3-7 overall, used the tournament as an opportunity to experiment with lineups and rotate players around the field.

“It’s just about joining together, finding a rhythm together,” Lee said. “Right now we have a couple that are really hot and hopefully it catches on. It’s contagious, I hope.”

The Vikings next play Ridgeview of Bakersfield at Mira Monte on Friday at 11:30 a.m. and will begin the Foothill League season on March 24 at Canyon at 3:15 p.m.

Saugus plays Granada Hills Charter in a doubleheader on March 28 with the first game scheduled for 2 p.m. The Cents start league play on March 24 at West Ranch with first pitch scheduled for 3:15 p.m.

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