End of the line: Banner year comes to end for Warriors softball team
AURORA — Another Southwestern League title, 22 wins and reaching its preseason goal of making the final four at the Class 5A state softball tournament — a banner year for the Central High School softball team.
Saturday at the Aurora Sports Park, though, the Warriors were one out away from playing for the state championship.
Central gave up two runs in the bottom of the seventh to lose 5-4 to Ralston Valley.
“I don’t think we hurt ourselves as much as they came through,” Central coach Scott Else said. “There was a lot of pressure, but there was equally as much pressure on them and they came through when they needed to.”
After erasing a 3-0 deficit in the final two innings, Central led by one, 4-3. The Warriors had their ace, Mikayla Duffy, on the mound, and were three outs from heading to the championship game against Legacy.
Jenny Hedrick led off the bottom of the seventh with a single.
Duffy retired the next two batters, but with Hedrick on second base, Jackie Sanzolone laced a single to tie the game at 4-4. The next batter, Lauren Biddle, hit a fly ball to shallow right field that scored Sanzolone for the 5-4 win.
“They couldn’t have a better part of their order up, so to ask Mikayla to go in and hold them down is tough,” Scott Else said. “They got little line drives and nothing was hit overly hard, just placed in the right position.”
After losing to the Mustangs 6-0 in last year’s state tournament, the Warriors didn’t get off to the start they were looking for Saturday. In the bottom of the first, Ralston Valley’s Meaghan Murphy hit a two-run home run.
Murphy, who pitched for Ralston Valley, shut out the Warriors for five innings.
Ralston Valley had runners in scoring position in both the third and fourth innings, but solid defense by shortstop Tayler Else, who turned a double play in the third and made a diving stop in the fourth, helped keep the Mustangs’ lead at two.
With two outs in the fifth, though, Else made an error on a ground ball that allowed Murphy to reach first. Murphy eventually scored on a passed ball for a 3-0 lead.
With only two innings left, the Warriors knew it was time to get the offense going.
Else made up for the error with a leadoff single in the sixth.
Danielle Romine singled, which set up an RBI single by Brittany Hoppe. Erin Martinez followed with a base hit to score Romine, but Hoppe was thrown out at the plate, cutting Ralston Valley’s lead to 3-2.
“We get that call at home, that changes things. We make a couple of outs that don’t give them that run,” Central coach Scott Else said. “That’s the stuff you work on in practice all year long, and sometimes in the big situations the emotions get to you.”
Still trailing by one run in the seventh inning, Central handled the pressure of the big game.
Danielle Romine laced a triple and Whitney Stone reached first on a fielder’s choice that held Romine at third. The next batter, Else laced a line drive to the outfield to give Central a 4-3 lead.
“She threw a change-up and I knew it was going to be right down the middle,” Tayler Else said. “So I stepped back and waited on it and did what I had to do.”
Although the loss was a disappointing way to end the season, it still was a year in which the Warriors won 22 games. Their two losses were by a combined two runs.
“It was a great group and we didn’t have any drama all year long,” Scott Else said. “The kids were awesome. They worked really hard. I think this is the first team from the Western Slope to go to a final four in 5A.”
Central loses only three seniors, and the juniors are already pointing to next season.
“We will come back next year and not settle for final four,” Duffy said. “We are going to go final two.”