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Softball: Gaffin’s pitching, tip of Legacy’s defensive spear

AURORA – It was a chant that sent chills up Class 5A’s collective spine – “Meet Rainey Gaffin!”

The refrain was repeated over and over by the Legacy dugout when its star senior stepped up to the plate. And in the end, most opponents were not pleased to have made the acquaintance of perhaps the state’s most dangerous hitter.

Gaffin wreaked havoc on pitching staffs all season and came up big in the game that delivered third-seed Legacy its fifth consecutive state championship. The senior came up with two hits – one a triple – and scored two runs in her team’s 4-1 win over fifth-seed Brighton.

Impressive as her game-leading offensive showing was, Gaffin’s final high school showing might be remembered for something else – her pitching.

“Allowing one run and two hits in the state championship, that’s big,” Legacy coach Dawn Gaffin said. “And to do it while also hitting 2-for-3 with a triple, I don’t know if that’s something that we’ve had a player do before.”

Gaffin found her groove early against Brighton, collecting four of her six strikeouts in the first three innings of play. But this stretch also was the senior’s rockiest, with the Bulldogs’ finding the pitcher’s sweet spot.

McKenzie Motes put Brighton on the board in the top of the third, when the nine-hole hitter came up with her team’s biggest offense play of the game. The first baseman sent a solo home run over the left-field wall. The play gave Brighton an early 1-0 lead and frayed Gaffin’s nerves.

“It was one of those moments where it felt like you gave up everything,” said Gaffin, who finished the season with a 1.82 era. “The first thing that went through my mind was, ‘What if this ends up being all (the game’s offense) and we lost the game because of me.”

The pitcher rebounded immediately after the inning and, with her team’s nearly flawless defense, closed out the game allowing only one more hit. But even then, Gaffin figured out a way to shine.

After Brighton shortstop Rachael Lopez got on past with a single to right field in the seventh inning, initiated one of the niftiest defensive plays of the afternoon. The pitcher fielded Natalie Sanchez’s ground ball in the next at bat, relayed the ball to shortstop Jessica Ball for the force-out at second; Ball then fired the ball to Angelique Archuleta to get Sanchez out before she tagged first.

The double-play was so efficient in ending the game it caught the Legacy coach off guard.

“I wasn’t ready for the game to yet, but was like ‘Yeah!’ right after it happened,” Dawn Gaffin said.

The solid final pitching performance was huge for Legacy, but also personally for Gaffin. It has the potential to be her last trip into the pitcher’s circle.

Gaffin joins the University of Tennessee next season and was mainly recruited for her ability to hit, finishing this season with a .593 batting average. Her last showing pitching leaves a good taste in the player’s mouth.

“I’m very happy,” Gaffin said. “But really, I wouldn’t have cared how I pitched, as long a we won the title.”