It’s win or go home: Fruita, Central, Palisade aim for four wins at state

It’s been a long season since the first practice Aug. 17, and to complete the goal set at the beginning of the season will take only four more wins.

Beginning today at the Aurora Sports Park, 16 teams in Class 5A, Class 4A, and Class 3A are looking to get those four wins in the two days that it takes to win the state softball championship.

At this point, it’s win or go home in the single-elimination Sweet 16 for Central and Fruita Monument in Class 5A and Palisade in 4A.

Here are four keys to success for the Wildcats, Warriors and Bulldogs in their quest for those four more victories.

Although the Warriors have the experience at the state tournament, they haven’t been able to get past the first round the past two years. Last season, the Warriors lost 6-0 to Ralston Valley and in 2007 fell to Legacy 2-0. This is the best first-round draw for the Warriors, so they have their best opportunity to complete their goal of making the final four.

Fruita Monument (19-3)

By finishing second in the Region 2 tournament, the Wildcats dropped from the No. 8 to the No. 10 seed. That pits the Wildcats against No. 7 Brighton at 12:15 p.m., which could work in Fruita Monument’s favor. The Wildcats struggled at the beginning of each game of their regional tournament as the home team, so by being the visitor in the first round, Fruita will have the opportunity to jump on the Bulldogs first. Brighton is led by sophomore Paxton Duran who is the Bulldogs’ top hitter at .461 as well as Brighton’s ace with a 1.19 ERA and 175 strikeouts.

Fruita Monument is the only team to have beaten second-seeded Central this season, so the Wildcats have what it takes to win as a lower seed.

Offense: “We have to do what we’ve done all year, which is hitting one through nine and stringing hits together.” — Taylor Johnson, junior shortstop

The Wildcats can do a little bit of everything at the plate with speedsters like Kendra Williams, who leads the team with 29 hits at the leadoff spot. Fruita also has catcher Ashleigh Wissel, who provides the Wildcats with power with five home runs this season.

Defense: “We want to be mentally prepared to keep everything clean and play how we know how to play. We can’t let the fear and pressure of being at state bring us down in any way.” — Brooke Williams, senior third baseman

Fruita Monument is led by pitcher Erika Chirdon, who has a 2.00 ERA with 60 strikeouts. The Wildcats have other options, with freshman Mallory Paulson and senior Krystina Pacheco if Chirdon runs into trouble. Behind the pitchers is a solid infield made up of Williams at third, Johnson at shortstop, Ashley Hyde at second and Jordan Paulson at first.

Overall: “We have to keep our composure. I don’t think we’ve thought too much about state and we are pretty relaxed now.” — Krystina Pacheco, senior pitcher

Fruita struggled offensively in the regional tournament, which hasn’t been the case all season. The Wildcats turned it around against Grand Junction to clinch the state berth, but it was a wake-up call.

Fruita Monument has the talent to compete, but in a single-elimination game, it comes down to which team plays well in the early innings.

X-Factor: “I want us to enjoy this weekend. We know it’s the last week, but I don’t think it will set in until we get onto the field, so we want to go over there and see what happens.” — coach Jaime Dunn

Fruita Monument is a team that didn’t have many expectations at the beginning of the year with Dunn in her first year as coach, but the Wildcats are hoping to establish themselves as a team that can compete with any team in the state. The first game against Brighton will be tough, but if Fruita plays with high intensity, anything is possible.

Central (20-1)

The Warriors defeated Grandview and Poudre to qualify for their third straight Sweet 16. As the No. 2 seed, Central plays No. 15 Lakewood at 12:15 p.m. The Tigers are led by pitcher Kylie Pierce, who has a 1.32 ERA with 111 strikeouts. Offensively, Emily Hurlbert has a .378 batting average.

Central enters the tournament with high expectations after losing in the first round of state the past two seasons.

Offense: “It’s putting the ball into play and stringing together a few hits. It’s going to be really important to start the game well because we can carry that momentum through the rest of the games.” — Taylor Reyes, junior left fielder

The Warriors didn’t plan on having a powerhouse offensive team, but the bats have helped get Central to this point. Led by Mikayla Duffy (.672, 8 triples, 60 RBI) and Danielle Romine (.593, six doubles), the Warriors are consistent throughout the lineup. Central has the offense to put lot of runs on the board to support the pitching of Duffy.

Defense: “We need to make the easy out. We can’t do anything to hurt us.” — Jessica Romine, junior first baseman

Runs aren’t an easy thing to come by against Central, which allows two runs per game. Duffy, a junior left-hander, has had a nearly untouchable year with a 1.15 ERA and 109 strikeouts.

Behind Duffy is a solid defensive lineup, including shortstop Tayler Else, center fielder Whittany Stone and catcher Danielle Romine.

Overall: “We have a lot of confidence and have to make sure we take it one game at a time.” — Erin Martinez, senior second baseman

Central has the talent to make a push for the state title, so it will come down to how the Warriors handle the competition. Early offensive outputs will help them maintain their confidence, and put other teams away, because Duffy tends to gets stronger as the game progresses.

X-Factor: “We are excited, but not giddy, because we have been there before, so when they get there they know the procedure and won’t be overwhelmed.” — coach Scott Else

Palisade (15-6)

The Bulldogs upset both Thomas Jefferson and Silver Creek to advance into the Sweet 16 of the Class 4A state tournament. Palisade received the No. 16 seed, and plays the No. 1 team in the state, Wheat Ridge, at noon. The Farmers are 19-1, and can put big numbers on the scoreboard, scoring 10 runs in a game 12 times this season. Wheat Ridge has strong production on the mound from Stephanie Routzon, who has 169 strikeouts to only 18 walks.

This is the first time the Bulldogs have been to the state since 2003.Offense: “We can’t be scared to go up to bat. We need to have confidence in ourselves and the things our offense can do.” — Shelby Hanson, junior pitcher

Palisade relied on its offense to get through the regional tournament, scoring a combined seven runs in the final inning against Thomas Jefferson and Silver Creek. The Bulldogs must continue to get good offensive output from players like Kendra Barnes (.538 BA, 7 home runs) and Tiffany Wells (.456 BA, 19 RBI).

Defense: “We have to expect each other to be there and back each other up. If we put trust in each other, we’ll be OK and have some fun.” —  Breonna Poundstone, senior shortstop

The Bulldogs have a two-pitcher rotation with Hanson and sophomore Emily Crow. Hanson has 92 strikeouts and a 2.73 ERA. Crow gives teams a different look. Although she isn’t a power pitcher, she hits her spots and has allowed only nine walks this season.

Overall: “It’s keeping our heads in the game and not making mental errors. When we do that and are really playing Palisade softball, then I think we have all the potential in the world.” — Hannah Tredway, senior second baseman

The 8-0 loss in the first game of the regional tournament against Niwot was only the second time all season Palisade has been shut out. The Bulldogs can hit with anyone at the state tournament, so it will come down to how Palisade’s offense executes.

X-Factor: “We have someone doing something special every game to help us win. Our biggest thing this year is that we play together as a team.” — coach John Vanlandingham

At this point of the playoffs anything can happen. The odds are stacked against Palisade to beat a powerful Wheat Ridge team, but the early game could favor a Bulldogs team hungry to prove themselves.


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