AURORA — They say to be the best, you have to beat the best.
While that type of thing usually happens deep into a championship run, the Silver Creek softball team may have gotten that critical element of any championship run out of the way early at the Class 4A state tournament on Friday. In the quarterfinals and facing top-seeded Valor Christian - the three-time defending champion and clear favorite to win a fourth - the Silver Creek Raptors pulled off the upset that no team at a state tournament had been able to achieve in any of the past three seasons.
The No. 8 Raptors also jumped on the Eagles' star pitcher Alexandria Kilponen early, spoiling her bid to become the second Colorado prep pitcher ever to win four state titles, with a 5-1 victory that advanced them to the state semifinals.
"We struggled in the beginning of the season trying to find our identity," Raptors junior Jetta Nannen said. "But we've really come together as a team. We were as loud as can be today, we played with passion at heart, and we just got it done as a team."
Nannen certainly did her part in orchestrating the upset, starting the game on the mound and allowing just one run on six hits while striking out six over a complete seven-inning game. She also hit a solo home run in the fifth inning that gave the Raptors a three-run lead and may well have been the dagger.
After losing 1-0 to the Eagles in last year's quarterfinals, the Raptors' win on Friday also snapped a 28-game win streak. The five runs (two earned) the Raptors put up against Kilponen were the first that any team had managed since Wheat Ridge scored one on Sept. 22.
"They knocked us out in the quarterfinals last year, and we had a great time last year," Raptors head coach Ryan Beavers said. "But the big difference in our team this year was, when we got a pitch to hit, we didn't miss it. She's a great pitcher, I mean she gave up six earned runs all season or whatever it is, but we did a great job of managing the hitting zone and not chasing pitches."
The Raptors will face No. 5 Pueblo Central in the semifinals at 10 a.m. on Saturday.
Elsewhere in the 4A bracket, No. 4-seed and reigning runner-up Erie reached the quarterfinal round. But Erie fell 9-5 to Pueblo Central later in the afternoon round. No. 7 Frederick fell 8-6 to Mullen in the first round despite leading 6-5 after the fifth inning.
In Class 5A, No. 3 Legacy defeated No. 14 ThunderRidge, 10-4 in the first round, and then bested Loveland, 7-2 in the quarterfinals, to reach the state semifinals on Saturday. The Lightning will play No. 10 Legend in the semifinals at 10 a.m. on Saturday.
Silver Creek 5, Valor Christian 1
At Aurora Sports Park
Silver Creek 012 011 0 — 5 8 0
Valor Christian 000 100 0 — 1 6 2
W — Nannen. L — Kilponen.
Silver Creek hitting (ab-r-h-rbi) — Harper 4-1-1-0, Nannen 3-1-2-1, Dwyer 3-0-0-1, Green 3-1-1-0, Nielsen 3-1-2-1, Flynn 3-1-1-0, Garcia 3-0-1-0, Wager 3-0-1-0, Granger 0-0-0-0, Kuckik 3-0-0-0, Beavers 0-0-0-0, Kuehl 0-0-0-0. Totals 28-5-8-3. 2B —Green. HR —Nannen, Nielsen. SB —Flynn 2.
Valor Christian hitting (ab-r-h-rbi) — Wilson 1-0-0-0, Meredith 3-0-0-0, Hollander 3-0-0-0, McNally 3-0-1-0, Behabetz 3-0-1-0, Kilponen 3-0-2-0, Baldwin 3-0-1-0, Kreimeyer 3-0-0-0, Ruiz 2-0-1-1, Mitchell 0-1-0-0. Totals 25-1-6-1. 2B — Kilponen, Baldwin, Ruiz.
Silver Creek pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) — Nannen 7-6-1-0-1-6.
Valor Christian pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) — Kilponen 7-8-5-2-1-12.