AURORA — A memorable run through the Class 5A state softball tournament came to a heartbreaking end Saturday for Central.

The Warriors had advanced to the semifinals thanks to close wins over Legend and top-seeded Rock Canyon, but it was eventual state champion Fossil Ridge that ended the Cinderella run with a 4-0 win.

The loss demonstrated just how competitive Central is compared to the top teams in the state — especially one that sometimes gets overlooked because of its distance from the bulk of the Class 5A teams across the state.

“We came all the way over and played Fossil, Rock Canyon and Rocky Mountain the first three games of the year,” Central coach Scott Else said. “We came back over here to get that respect, but sometimes when you are over there you just don’t get what you think you deserve.”

The Warriors (15-4) don’t have to worry about what they deserve. They earned their final spot as one of the best four teams in the state. The 1-0 win over Rock Canyon in the quarterfinals brought them to Aurora Sports Park and a showdown with the fourth-seeded Sabercats.

In the first inning, an error and a base hit put Sidona Johnston and Myah Arrieta on first and second, but Fossil Ridge’s Nikki McGaffin struck out Kayla Coleman and Kolby Key to get out of trouble. That turned out to be foreshadowing as each time the Warriors got runners on base with a chance to score, the Sabercats would pull an escape act and get out of the inning unscathed.

With no run support, pressure mounted on Central’s Kennedy Vis to match what McGaffin was doing for Fossil Ridge.

“Pitchers always have that issue,” Vis said. “You have to have confidence in your defense.”

McGaffin reached base on a double in the second and courtesy runner Zaelyn Harding was eventually driven in by Brooke Forbes to put Fossil Ridge up 1-0. The Sabercats added three more runs in the third, putting pressure on a Central offense that hadn’t scored more than three runs in any tournament game.

Johnston and Arrieta both reached base again in the fifth, but pop-ups from Vis and Key again got Fossil Ridge out of danger.

Vis held the Sabercats at bay for the remainder of the game, but the Warriors couldn’t generate enough offense to claw their way back into it.

“You have to take it as a lesson,” shortstop Mya Murdock said. “It’s better for your future. You have to learn from it.”

Central loses five seniors from Saturday’s lineup but that doesn’t mean an end to the Warriors’ championship desires. Else noted that he had seen coaches from Rocky Mountain and Fossil Ridge scouting Central whenever the chance presented itself. And he believes the program’s winning ways will continue into the future.

“I think we’re the best team on the Western Slope,” he said. “Year after year we try to reload and prove that.”

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