Hitting their stride
Warriors' foe in state softball playoffs relies on its lineup
Central High School softball coach Scott Else and the Warriors haven’t faced their first-round Class 5A playoff opponent, No. 7 Rock Canyon, this season. Still, there’s a recent opponent that pops to Else’s mind when scouting the team No. 10 Central (18-3-1) faces at 12:15 p.m. today in Aurora.
Rock Canyon (12-9) is very similar to Fort Collins, Else said, the team that won the Region 8 tournament in Grand Junction by beating the Warriors 5-4 in the championship. The comparison is drawn by Rock Canyon’s dependence on its lineup.
“They’ve given up 122 runs this year and have committed some errors,” Else said of Rock Canyon. “It seems like they ride their top hitters and survive on the plays they make.”
Indeed, it appears the Jaguars have made big plays in the batter’s box this season. Four of Rock Canyon’s top hitters have an average of .400 or better. Of those hitters, senior Sloane Stewartson provides the most pop. Stewartson has a team-high eight home runs and 30 RBI as well as eight doubles this season. Stewartson is first in Class 5A in on base percentage (.731), second in batting average (.644) and fourth in slugging percentage (1.186).
In the pitching circle, Rock Canyon has leaned heavily on senior Sydney Marchando, who has logged 107 2/3 innings this season with 113 strikeouts and 27 walks. Marchando also pitches for Colorado Next Level Softball, one of the top club programs in the state.
The Jaguars finished third in the Class 5A/4A Continental League. Central beat the league’s champion, Douglas County, and fourth-place finisher Mountain Vista this season.
“They won their region, so they’re obviously a quality team,” Else said. “They’re in a tough conference, too, with Douglas County and ThunderRidge.”
Central brings offensive weapons of its own to the matchup, with Melissa Gellermann leading Class 5A in home runs (10) and RBI (42) and Sierra Batchelor and Jordyn Hays also appearing in the top five of various stat categories.
But the biggest advantage Central has, Else said, is the way they were seeded.
Central was the No. 2 team in the state during regionals, with all the eyes and expectations that come with such a designation. Being seeded further down the bracket at state means less pressure. That, combined with juniors and seniors with state experience — the Warriors made the state tournament in 2014 — sets Central up nicely.
“They know we’re the lower seed so there’s motivation there,” Else said. “These girls are definitely motivated.
“It’s a hell of a time anyway,” Else added. “With 3A, 4A, 5A all in the same place and all the vendors and colleges, it’s a fun atmosphere and having experience there helps.”