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CIF North Coast Section Division 2 softball championship preview: Marin Catholic has a small edge over Benicia after upsetting Livermore

The Wildcats upset top-seeded Livermore in the semifinals, but do they still have juice after a slew of extra-inning victories?

Here's a complete preview of the North Coast Section Division 2 softball finals:

No. 1 Granada Livermore (26-3) vs. No. 2 Heritage Brentwood (23-3-1) – 5 p.m. at Granada

In Division 2, top-seeded Livermore entered as the clear favorite with a few other legitimate contenders also in the mix. Benicia and Marin Catholic were a couple of those "also in the mix" teams, and after MC upset Livermore, there's a case to be made that the fifth-seeded Wildcats are the mild favorites heading into the finals.

Knocking off the top seed and a top-10 team in the state alone is the best win of the year by far for the Wildcats, and it instantly gives them a case as the favorite, in addition to them only having three losses on the season. Two of them came 2-1 in extra innings (10 innings and nine innings, respectively) to league foe Redwood, and those were avenged in the quarterfinals when they went even further into extras to knock No. 4 Redwood off. MC also was beaten soundly in a shutout by Amador Valley on March 17.

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Benicia too has a win over a top-10 team in the state, having beaten Granada (Livermore) 3-2 in early April. The Panthers' losses have all come to quality opponents, in Vintage (twice), Heritage (Brentwood), Foothill (Pleasanton), and Dixon. On paper, these teams are evenly-matched.

What separates them is that Benicia has good pitching but relies on a deep, consistent lineup that scores nearly nine runs a game, Marin Catholic is a pitching/defensive juggernaut that struggles to put runs up against top foes. Chapman-bound senior Rose Malen is about as good as it gets at 15-3 with a 0.43 ERA and 246 strikeouts in 129 innings. She's also a good contact hitter on a team with a few of them, particularly Sammy Horn (0.566 BA) and Lauren Osheroff (0.554 OBP, team-high 1.256 OPS). 

Benicia starter Braxton Brown and key reliever Sinead Maas both have very good ERAs of 2.43. Brown is also a big-time hitter with a team-high five home runs on .357 hitting, and a 1.111 OPS. That OPS is fourth on the team among starters, and the four Panthers with better ones are all hitting upwards of 0.430: Kyra Mason (0.525 BA), Lorenzza Marcacci, Robynn Balmediano, and Emma French, who has a team-high OPS of 1.290.

In addition to the personnel contrast, perhaps the biggest storyline is, does Marin Catholic have anything left after going to extra innings in four of its last five games? Not to mention that's 48 innings of work for Falen over five games, which might be encroaching on some kind of record. If the Wildcats can take that experience into Benicia with sharpness instead of fatigue, we give them a slight edge. Against Livermore, even scoring two earned runs against ace Taylor Rodriguez to send the game to extras was a strong offensive showing, and while it took 11 innings, they got to her for a total of eight. But if Benicia can build a lead of even a run or two in the first few innings, the Panthers will have a great shot to deliver a title.