ERIE — The Erie Tigers are the talk of Class 4A softball at the moment, but even they fell prone to mistakes as they hosted the 17th Festival of Champions over the past three days.
A sour defeat on Friday to Sequoyah (Oklahoma) left Erie head coach Harold Simmons wanting a little bit more effort out of his team, and he got it in almost every way on Saturday as EHS cleaned up for a 5-2 win over CHSAANow.com's 4A No. 5-ranked Mullen.
The Tigers also split a double-header against Oklahoma's 6A defending state champion, Mustang, on Thursday — wrapping up the tournament with a 2-2 record that will likely keep them as the top-ranked team in the classification for the coming week.
"The goal for us today was just to be physically more aggressive and try to put good swings on ... that mentality just showed up on the field for us today and we were better prepared," Simmons said after the morning victory over Mullen, which has struggled out of the gate at 1-6. "Those Oklahoma teams bring it, that physicality and aggression that sometimes our Colorado game lacks. It felt good to play them because you see that and you take from it and use it."
The Tigers beared down last week at the Downtown Showdown at Metro State, beating both Valor Christian and Legend (the latter the 5A defending state champs). On Saturday, it was all about gathering some steam again after a 14-1 loss to Sequoyah.
That began in the pitching circle with Maddie Leach, extended to the field with a solid defensive presence, and finished with a more aggressive approach to their at-bats.
For Leach, Saturday represented exactly one year to the day that she suffered a knee injury which cost her the junior season, but after advancing through rehabilitation quite quickly she has put together a strong start to 2018.
She delivered confidently against a tough Mustangs lineup and completely shut them down after the fourth inning, with help from several plays by shortstop Sloane Quijas.
"I actually had a really quick recovery ... and it was just crazy the amount of support I've gotten overall," Leach said. "It was hard but I got through it. We want to make sure we're playing together and make sure we're having fun with it, too. I was a little nervous because of it being a year today, but I'm super confident because of the defense I have behind me. And we have a really great offense."
"She's working hard, and I don't know that she's 100 percent yet but she is putting it in," Simmons said of Leach. "She got hit really hard (Friday), and I got on her a little bit but I thought she bounced back really well today."
The Tigers trailed 1-0 before a two-run base hit from Jen Williams gave EHS the lead. Mullen tied things at 2-2 in the fourth, but a Madysun Vaughan triple and a groundout RBI from Teagan Brand gave Erie back the lead for good. A double steal in the seventh inning provided Erie with a fifth run and a nice cushion, but Leach retired Mullen in order to finish the contest.
With so many of Colorado's top-ranked teams involved, not to mention a lot of cross-classification play, plenty of 4A teams get a lot of experience this weekend.
Frederick and Silver Creek were two such teams. The Warriors went 1-2 with their win coming against Evergreen on Friday, and for Silver Creek the event brought three more good wins to its season. The Raptors beat 5A Dakota Ridge, 5A Horizon and also beat Mullen, while their only setback was also to Sequoyah.
Broomfield fell to 1-3 in the event with a pair of losses on Saturday, dropping a 5-1 decision to Union (Oklahoma) and then a 9-2 defeat to 5A No. 1 Eaglecrest. The Eagles were playing without head coach Paula Seifried, who was placed on administrative leave as Boulder Valley School District investigates an allegation of misconduct, according to a letter sent home to parents on Friday.
Legacy, ranked No. 3 in 5A, lost 3-0 to Sequoyah on Thursday and then rallied to beat Ralston Valley on Friday 13-1. The Lightning were scheduled to play Chatfield late Saturday evening.