Softball: Skyline transforms from bottom feeder to regional host

Matthew Jonas / Longmont Times-Call
Leah Osborn (left) and Neena Shields have been two key components of the Skyline softball program’s remarkable turnaround.

 

Over the past few frustrating seasons, it got to the point that the Skyline softball team merely strove to put together a reputable performance. Winning wasn’t even part of the equation.

Who would have guessed then, that after winning only one game in each of the past three seasons, the Falcons would be gearing up to host a playoff game this week? Not star junior shortstop Leah Osborn.

“Absolutely not,” she said. “My freshman year, we were a mess. We were all over the place. It got better last year, but I would never expect this.”

The Falcons (15-4) earned the No. 7 seed in the Class 3A bracket and will host the Region 6 tournament on Saturday. Skyline will open against No. 13 Greeley Central (4-13-1) with the winner moving on to face No. 6 Lamar. Although Lamar is the higher seed, Skyline is hosting by virtue of winning District 1 while Lamar finished second in District 2.

Two of the three teams will advance to state, so the Falcons’ chances are solid.

Yes, Skyline moved down from 4A this season, but that is only part of the equation. The Falcons had virtually everyone back, and third-year coach Scarlett Gemm had laid a foundation that was moving forward but hadn’t yet translated to wins. When building from the ground up, results aren’t always immediate.

“I knew from last year that this team had potential,” said Osborn, who is batting .627 with six home runs and 44 RBIs. “I kind of sensed it early this season, based on the way that we kept performing, that we could be pretty good.”

Osborn had a spectacular 10-RBI game against Lyons early in the season, an effort that included two grand slams. Gemm pointed to three key games that allowed her Falcons turn the corner — Osborn’s breakout game against Lyons, the league opener against The Academy, and a non-league win against 4A Centaurus.

“Those were the games that we started to pay really solid softball and proved that we could play with teams that were pretty much on the same level as us,” Gemm said. “We were able to come out with victories, so those are the three moments of the season that really showed what we were as a team.”

A solid corps of sophomores also has ignited the Falcons, including pitcher Neena Shields. The right-hander is 13-3 in the pitching circle and has contributed 33 RBIs. Classmate Hannah Painter is batting .627. Freshman Hailey Johnson has contributed with a .483 average and 12 stolen bases.

“I think the belief that we were able to score runs every game took a lot of the pressure off our pitching and catching from having to be perfect,” Gemm said.

Lyons (8-11) also cracked the 3A bracket as the No. 13 seed and will play against No. 12 Basalt. The winner of that one gets Region 1 host Strasburg, which has won 48 straight games over parts of three seasons.

CLASS 4A

Frederick’s magical season has been rewarded with a top seed, but the Warriors hardly had to sweat it out. They are the lone undefeated team in the classification at 19-0 and made a 12-0 sweep through the Tri-Valley League. The Warriors will get things rolling Saturday against No. 32 Montezuma-Cortez.

Sophomore pitcher Alicia Hernandez has compiled an 18-0 mark with an 0.89 ERA and 148 strikeouts in just over 117 innings. Frederick’s balanced hitting attack has been led by sophomore right fielder Paris Woods (.457 average, four homers, 36 RBIs), first baseman Savannah Hall (.354-6-25) and leadoff hitter Alex Dufour (.431, 20 stolen bases).

League rival Erie earned the No. 9 seed, marking the rare occurrence that the Tigers won’t host a region. The Tigers (11-8), though, are coming in hot as winners of eight of their past nine. Erie will open against No. 24 Air Academy in a region hosted by Mountain View. Holy Family (7-12), seeded No. 25, will take on the host Mountain Lions.

Silver Creek also earned the right to host, with Ryan Beavers’ Raptors checking in at No. 5. The Raptors will open Region 3 play against No. 28 Green Mountain. Freshman pitcher Dana Dwyer has been a key addition for Silver Creek, and not only in the circle.

In addition to a 14-5 record, Dwyer has batted .532 with one homer and a team-best 33 RBIs.

Fellow Longmont-area squads Niwot and Mead also cracked the 4A bracket and will have to travel. Niwot (14-4-1) nabbed the No. 14 seed and will open against No. 19 Delta in a region hosted by Pueblo West. Mead (9-10) is the 26th seed and will begin play against No. 7 Discovery Canyon, the regional host.

CLASS 5A

Only two teams from the area advanced to the 5A postseason, but both earned host seeds. Legacy, winners of six of the past seven titles on the big-school circuit, nabbed the No. 2 seed and will host Region 8.

Legacy (15-4) is seeded behind only Fossil Ridge, which edged the Lightning for the Front Range League title by virtue of a 13-12 win on Sept. 3. Although they hail from the same league, the seeding committee deemed these two teams the best in the classification.

Reigning BoCoPreps.com Player of the Year Haley Smith, a pitcher and heavy hitter, and sophomore catcher Emily Taggart have been among the standouts for Legacy. The Lightning opens regional play Saturday against No. 31 Columbine.

Broomfield (13-6), in its first season up from 4A, checked in at No. 8. Sophomore Linnie Malkin has followed up a stellar freshman season with a .478 batting averaging, six homers and 28 RBIs. The Eagles will open against No. 25 Fruita Monument.

Contact BoCoPreps.com Writer Paul Willis at willisp@dailycamera.com