AURORA — Rio Sanchez had it all wrong.
A freshman isn’t supposed to exhibit this type of poise or deliver this type of pitching performance. Not when the opponent is the defending state champion, not in the state quarterfinals and not when it’s against the team that eliminated your team last season.
But there was Erie’s prized youngster Saturday at Aurora Sports Park, vastly outdueling Pueblo East senior left-hander Katie Orona to send the Tigers to a 7-1 win and a trip to Sunday’s Class 4A semifinals against Ponderosa.
“All of that was going through my head and I was extraordinarily nervous,” Sanchez said. “But from the support of my team, everything felt like it was going to be OK.”
It was more than that. The Tigers (20-3-1) jumped to a 2-0 against Orona, who outdueled Niwot’s Nickie Blue in last season’s 4A title game, when Katie Kovets delivered a two-run single to right. The way Sanchez was going, that would have been enough offense.
The sixth-seeded Tigers, though, kept adding on against a No. 3 Pueblo East (18-4-1) squad that committed an uncharacteristic five errors, many of which helped Erie keep innings alive. A two-run double to the right-center field gap by second baseman Sonoma Toot in the fourth made it 5-0 and provided an underlying feel that it was Erie’s day.
The Tigers, who knocked off Silver Creek 11-1 earlier in the day in a first-round matchup, admittedly experienced a jolt of added satisfaction in ousting a Pueblo East squad that edged them in the semifinals last season.
“Absolutely,” Erie center fielder Kenzie Kudrna said. “It’s always good to get revenge, and especially on a team like that because we have so much respect for them. They flat-out beat us last year and it’s nice to come back and flat out beat them.”
Erie had a rough stretch a week earlier in regionals, when a 15-13 loss to Mullen forced the Tigers to win a playback game to make it into the bracket. It was quickly apparent that the Tigers had shed those doldrums when they made quick work of Silver Creek then watched Sanchez go to work against Pueblo East.
Her final line: seven innings, seven hits, one unearned run, one walk, seven strikeouts.
“I thought she did a great job,” Erie coach Bob Bledsoe said. “We evaluated the regional weekend, and I came to the conclusion that I lost that Mullen game by not staying with her a little longer.”
Bledsoe indicated a tough strike zone on both sides forced struggles for pitchers in that one, and Sanchez truly is the Tigers’ best bet against teams with an abundance of left-handed hitters. She proved that theory correct against the Eagles.
“I was very impressed with her attitude on the mound,” Kovets said. “She helped us big time.”
Senior Carrie Clarke pitched the opener against Silver Creek and was sharp as well. Clarke held a hard-hitting Raptors squad to a mere four hits before the Tigers instituted the 10-run rule in the fifth.
Erie’s first four batters drew walks to start the contest, including a bases-loaded free pass to Tiffany Maul that forced in a run. The Tigers scored three in the first, got a solo homer from Sanchez in the third and never stopped adding on against the No. 11 Raptors (15-8).
Then it was on to Pueblo East, with the object of returning the dubious favor the Eagles gave the Tigers last season.
“I think for the players, there was a little something extra,” Bledsoe said. “We had a very nice season last year, and it was a competitive game with Pueblo East that came down to our last at-bat.”
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Erie 7, Pueblo East 1
At Aurora Sports Park
Erie (20-3-1) 200 302 0 — 7 10 2
Pueblo East (18-4-1) 000 100 0 — 1 7 5
W — Sanchez (7-0). L — Orona (17-3)
Erie hitting (ab-r-h-rbi) — Kudrna 5-2-1-0, Glaze 3-2-0-0, Toot 3-0-1-2, Maul 3-0-1-0, Natal 0-1-0-0, Clarke 3-0-2-1, Kovets 4-0-1-2, Sanchez 4-0-2-0, M. Foster 0-1-0-0, S. Foster 3-0-2-0, Macias 4-1-0-0. Totals 32-7-10-5. 2B — Toot.
Pueblo East hitting (ab-r-h-rbi) — Talmadge 4-0-0-0, Garza 3-0-1-0, Laughlin 4-0-1-0, Minnich 3-0-0-0, Kintscher 3-0-0-0, Renck 3-1-3-0, Horvat 2-0-0-0, Garcia 2-0-1-0, A. Gallardo 0-0-0-0, C. Gallardo 3-0-1-0, Romero 0-0-0-0. Totals 21-1-7-0. 2B — Renck.
Erie pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) — Sanchez 7-7-1-0-1-7.
Pueblo East pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) — Orona 7-10-7-2-2-1.
Erie 11, Silver Creek 1
At Aurora Sports Park
Silver Creek (15-8) 001 00 — 1 4 4
Erie (19-3-1) 311 42 — 11 8 0
W — Clarke (8-1). L — Yost (15-8).
Silver Creek hitting (ab-r-h-rbi) — Weber 2-0-1-0, Aubry 2-0-1-1, Ludwig 2-0-0-0, Wergin 3-0-0-0, Strub 2-0-0-0, Wagner 1-0-1-0, Yost 2-0-0-0, Ballard 2-0-0-0, Jones 2-1-1-0. Totals 18-1-4-1. SB — Wagner.
Erie hitting (ab-r-h-rbi) — Kudrna 3-2-1-0, Glaze 2-2-1-1, Toot 2-2-1-1, Maul 3-0-1-2, Natal 0-0-0-0, Kovets 3-0-1-1, Wilson 0-1-0-0, Clarke 2-0-1-2, M. Foster 0-0-0-0, Sanchez 3-1-1-1, S. Foster 3-1-1-0, Macias 1-1-0-0, Hutzley 1-1-0-0. Totals 23-11-8-8. HR — Sanchez (solo in third). SB — Kudrna, Toot, M. Foster, Macias.
Silver Creek pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) — Yost 4.1-8-11-6-5-1.
Erie pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) — Clarke 5-4-1-1-2-5.