Early lead not enough as Wildcats fall at state in softball

AURORA — Long before the Fruita Monument High School softball team made the trip from the Western Slope, the Wildcats understood that a mammoth-sized roadblock soon would be in their path.

The Class 5A state softball tournament bracket made it abundantly clear: if the Wildcats won their opener Friday against Ralston Valley, four-time defending champion Legacy likely would be waiting at Aurora Sports Park.

Well, Fruita Monument won its wild opener 7-6, and yes, Legacy was waiting. And unfortunately for Wildcats’ fans, the Lightning was as good as advertised in sending Fruita home with a 7-2 loss in the quarterfinals.

“I’m so proud of my girls because we didn’t roll over,” Wildcats coach Jamie Dunn said. “We hit the ball hard, we just hit it right to them. And good luck to Legacy. If they win it all, we can say we played with the 2011 state championship team.”

The Wildcats (19-4) took a 2-0 lead in the first but soon were victimized by Legacy’s power.

Pitcher Rainey Gaffin hit her 13th home run of the season and shortstop Jessica Ball her 11th, the most ever for a pair of teammates in state history.

“It would have felt good to go further, but I think we left it all on the field,” Wildcats pitcher Jenni Sneddon said. “Making it to the second game was a big step, because there are a lot of teams that go out right away.”

Fruita led 6-0 in the opener against Ralston Valley before the Mustangs battled back to tie it 6-6 against reliever Mallory Paulson in a nightmarish sixth inning that included four wild pitches, two passed balls and an error.

Sneddon re-entered in the pitching circle, and the Wildcats won it in the bottom of the seventh when a wild pitch allowed Mariah O’Dell to score from third.

“It was good to win a game at state again,” Dunn said. “Hopefully, eventually people will know where we’re from and know where Fruita, Colorado is.”

Class 4A

Montrose nearly pulled off the most monumental upset in the tournament in several years in the 4A bracket, but the 15th-seeded Indians fell just short in a 1-0 loss to second-seeded Pueblo South.

Montrose junior pitcher Lara Ackerman was perfect through four innings, but two hits and an error allowed the Colts (22-1) to take the lead in the bottom of the fifth. Although Sammi Jole went 2 for 3 with a double and Vanessa Nelson added a double, the Indians (13-10) could not solve Pueblo South starter Lexi Martindale. She struck out 11.

Pueblo South went on to beat Erie 8-0 and will play Windsor in the semifinals this morning.

Class 3A

Rifle had a quick exit in the 3A bracket as the 15th-seeded Bears were walloped 26-5 by No. 2 Holy Family.

Sophomore catcher Brittany Neuroth performed admirably with a double, a home run and four RBI — her two-run double in the first put Rifle (11-10) ahead 2-0 — but the Bears surrendered 22 runs in the bottom of the first inning in a game that went only three innings.

Gunnison held off Platte Valley 5-4 in the first round, but fell to Rocky Ford 13-3 in the quarterfinals.


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