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NCAA softball tournament takes on Santa Clarita flavor

Nine players with local ties to take part in tournament

Posted: May 15, 2013 7:31 p.m.
Updated: May 15, 2013 7:31 p.m.

Hart graduate and University of Oklahoma senior catcher Jessica Shults is one of nine Foothill League alumnae playing in the NCAA Division I softball tournament. Photo by John Williamson/University of Oklahoma.

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When the NCAA Division I softball postseason brackets were released Sunday night, a number of former Foothill League veterans — at least one from five of the six Foothill League schools — learned where they would be heading for the regional round of the postseason.

Hart, Valencia, Saugus, West Ranch and Canyon high schools all have at least one graduate participating in the tournament — further solidifying softball as one of the valley’s most talent-rich sports.

West Ranch head coach Bob Shults, whose daughter Jessica Shults will play for Oklahoma and who coached the Oregon Ducks’ Janelle Lindvall, gives credit to the William S. Hart PONY and Softball league in Valencia for starting kids out with a solid foundation.

“The Hart program in Valencia pushed the kids,” Shults said. “I feel it prepares them to give them a foundation to go on to the next level — a good travel ball team based out of Orange County or (the local) Santa Clarita Choppers.”

The NCAA tournament consists of 16 four-team, double-elimination regional-round tournaments, with the 16 winners advancing to eight best-of-three Super Regional contests.

The eight winners will head to Oklahoma City for the Women’s College World Series from May 30 to June 5.

It’s no secret who the headliners are here — Hart graduate Jessica Shults, Canyon graduate Brittany Williams and the No. 1 ranked Oklahoma Sooners will host a regional in Norman, Okla.

The Sooners will host Marist, Arkansas and Fordham.

In her senior season, Shults, a Team USA member, is batting .298 with 39 RBIs and seven home runs.

But Shults and Williams are far from the only players with Foothill League ties participating in the Division I postseason.

Valencia graduate Madison Shipman and Hart graduate Melissa Brown will take on Longwood University on May 17 as their Tennessee Volunteers squad hosts in the regional round in Knoxville, Tenn.

The Knoxville Regional will feature North Carolina State, James Madison and Longwood.

Shults, Williams, Brown and Shipman all participated in last season’s Women’s College World Series, with the Sooners falling to Alabama in the championship series — one win from a national title.

New to the collegiate postseason are Hart graduate Tracy Chandless and Saugus graduate Jenna Kelly. The freshman Chandless and red-shirt freshman Kelly are at the University of North Carolina and will get their first taste of the playoffs when the Tar Heels travel to Eugene, Ore. for the regional hosted by Oregon. It will also include Wisconsin and BYU.

Kelly, a 2011 Saugus graduate, has been productive at the plate in her first season of action.

The infielder has started 51 games and carries a .293 batting average into the postseason with 19 RBIs and four home runs.

Chandless hasn’t had as much opportunity this season, appearing in 30 games and having just 57 plate appearances.

But despite her .193 batting average, the Hart graduate has knocked in 13 runs and has two home runs.

The regional-host Oregon Ducks feature another Foothill League veteran making her first appearance in the NCAA postseason: West Ranch graduate Lindvall.

Lindvall has stepped right in for the Ducks, starting 45 game and entering the playoffs with a .288 average, 35 RBIs and is tied for third on the team with 11 home runs.

She’s been even hotter lately, too, leading the Ducks in RBIs with 23 and home runs with seven in Pac-12 play.

“I’m proud of our kids that they’re able to participate,” Bob Shults said. “But I’d like to see them compete against each other in the finals.”

Chandless and Kelly will not meet Lindvall’s Ducks in the opening game of that regional, but could play at some point.

Arizona State, which features Valencia graduate and Sun Devils sophomore Bethany Kemp, will host San Jose State, Georgia and San Diego State in Tempe, Ariz.

Kemp is batting .374 on the year with nine home runs and 27 RBIs.

Canyon graduate and Tulsa freshman Hayley Bottino will join her squad in Lincoln, Neb. to face region-host Nebraska as well as Stanford and the University of Northern Iowa.

None of the nine are new to playing at a high level, or playing against each other.

All nine were listed on the 2009 All-Foothill League team, with Shults earning co-Foothill League Player of the Year honors that season as a senior at Hart.

The Eugene Regional begins play today and runs through Saturday, with all other regionals starting Friday and ending Sunday.

The only possible Super Regional that could feature two Foothill League players will be played between the winners of the Eugene and Lincoln regionals, where Tulsa could potentially meet either Oregon or North Carolina should those teams win in the regional round.

 

 

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