Go ahead. Count out the Erie softball team.

The Tigers began the season as Class 4A’s top-ranked team, but came out of the gates with a 3-7 record.

A garbage team, right? All the pollsters must have had no idea what type of team they were affording such lofty praise.

Not so fast.

The Tigers won both their games last week, including a 1-0 victory Saturday at 5A Chatfield in which starting pitcher Rio Sanchez struck out 12. While 6-7 isn’t the Erie-like record many would expect at this point, there are some extenuating circumstances to the slow start.

Longtime Tigers skipper Bob Bledsoe explains.

“To start the season off, we had three senior players that we had pictured as being starters all have season-ending injuries,” Bledsoe said. “It put us in a situation where we were trying to fill defensive holes that they had left, and also their spots in the lineup.

“It put us in a situation in which we were putting in younger kids in some cases, and in other cases kids who were not experienced at a varsity level.”

The injured seniors are pitcher/first baseman Sam Foster (knee), utility player Aly Romey (Knee) and left fielder Jenna VanLone (elbow). The Tigers also were without standout junior shortstop Katie Glaze for the first seven games.

Couple that with a rigorous schedule that has included the top-ranked teams in each 4A (Frederick) and 5A (Dakota Ridge) and two games in the challenging Erie Tournament of Champions, and Erie’s desultory start gains some perspective.

“We’ve had teams on the schedule that are just real high-powered teams,” Bledsoe said. “The combination of our inexperience and the need to play at that level of speed and power — and a little lack of confidence — resulted in us not being very good to be perfectly frank.”

Bledsoe said pitchers Sanchez and Katie Kovets were trying to be too fine, believing they needed to strike out every batter rather than rely on a newly assembled defense. That led to command issues which resulted in an inordinate amount of walks.

Sanchez, a highly regarded sophomore, was 1-5 before the win at Chatfield but carried a 1.66 earned-run average entering Monday’s victory against Windsor. Her two-hitter against the Chargers included zero walks, which is a clear indication she is settling in.

The same can be said of Erie as whole. The Tigers took Dakota Ridge to 11 innings before falling 9-8 on Sept. 6, and the Eagles were anointed 5A’s No. 1 team in the poll two days later.

Erie now will try to make its way through the Tri-Valley League and round into shape before the postseason. Last season, the Tigers went a perfect 14-0 in league play and ultimately finished second at state.

Many key contributors from that team are back, which made Erie’s overall record, and even the Tigers’ 4-2 league mark, a bit puzzling. But things are on the upswing. Senior catcher Tiffany Maul is batting .561 with 10 RBIs to pace a lineup that appears on the verge of a breakout.

“For awhile as a coaching staff, we were trying to find the right pieces, trying people here, there,” Bledsoe said. “I think we’ve gotten to the point now where we know who we are. I think we’re getting a little more comfortable with it and more confident.”

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