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  • Hannah Hackney comes off the field in tears after the...

    Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    Hannah Hackney comes off the field in tears after the tough loss. The Erie Tigers lost to Valor Christian 1-0 in the semifinals of the 4A state softball tournament on Sunday.

  • The Erie Tigers are heartbroken after falling to Valor Christian...

    Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    The Erie Tigers are heartbroken after falling to Valor Christian 1-0 in the Class 4A state semifinals Sunday at Aurora Sports Park. More photos: BoCoPreps.com.

  • Erie's Rio Sanchez pitches against Valor Christian Sunday during the...

    Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    Erie's Rio Sanchez pitches against Valor Christian Sunday during the Class 4A state semifinals at Aurora Sports Park Sunday. Sanchez struck out 10 and only surrendered one hit, but it was a solo home run and the Tigers fell 1-0.

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AURORA — Successful seasons are measured with state titles at Erie.

That is why Sunday’s 1-0 loss to Valor Christian in the Class 4A state semifinals at Aurora Sports Park is a tough pill to swallow.

“I really feel like we had nothing more to give,” said Erie coach Harold Simmons, whose team finishes the regular season with a 21-3 record. “We hit the ball hard at times, we pitched very well, we played great defense … I’m not sure what else we can do.”

Tigers pitcher Rio Sanchez was close to flawless.

The junior sailed through the first six innings against the vaunted Eagles line-up having surrendered nary a hit and just one walk.

In the seventh, with one out she faced a familiar face in summer league teammate Lauren Foster. The Eagles junior, who has already made a verbal commitment to the University of Wisconsin, had walked her first time up and grounded out to short in her second plate appearance.

Before her third at-bat against Sanchez, Foster had a quick conference with her coach Dave Atencio down the third-base line that proved to be beneficial.

“He told me to back off the plate a little bit, she was jamming me inside hard,” Foster said.

The strategy worked and Foster made Sanchez pay for her one and only mistake of the day by belting a solo home run over the right field fence.

“That was a meatball right down the middle,” said Foster, after her 11th home run of the season sent her team to the title game against top-seeded Wheat Ridge. “It was perfect.”

Said Sanchez: “I really felt like I had a rhythm going and I was really comfortable with the girls behind me and I thought we had it. She got her hands on it and got her bat out there and hit it just at the right angle. It happens, it’s almost inevitable when you are constantly seeing me up. Good for her, I’m proud of her.”

Simmons and his staff tried some thing different on the pitch and to his credit they shoulder the blame.

“We will own that as a coaching staff,” he said. “We called it and it stayed up a little bit and she hit it. We probably should have went back in on her, but she’s such a good hitter like that, by the time you’ve busted her in so hard for two at bats, she’s got to start making that adjustment too, where she is thinking we are going to do it again. Obviously just a great hitter.”

The Erie bats needed to find something in the bottom half of the seventh to keep their season alive against Alexandria Kilponen, who was equally as devastating in the circle for the Eagles.

Anne Fisher singled to left with two outs, just the fourth hit of the game for Erie. Maddie Foster made a valiant attempt to move her around, fouling off four Kilponen pitches before striking out to end the game.

“We knew Kilponen is one of the best in the state,” Simmons said. “Her and Rio match up, and you match aces, and all you can do is tip your cap to them, they are a hell of a ball club.”

Valor went on to win the championship, knocking off top-seeded Wheat Ridge 2-1 later in the day. It is the Eagles second-straight 4A title.

Erie got back-to-back singles from Sanchez and Hannah Hackney with two outs in the third, but Kilponen got shortstop Katie Glaze to pop up to her opposite number.

“We came together as a team and we worked hard and I wouldn’t trade any of these girls for anything,” said Sanchez, who will return with her battery mate Hackney for another run next season. “They came out and they put everything they had into it.”

Jon Yunt: yuntj@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/JonEYunt

Valor Christian 1, Erie 0

At Aurora Sports Park

Valor Christian (22-1)
000 000 1 — 1 1 0

Erie (21-3)
000 000 0 — 0 4 0

W — Alexandria Kilponen (22-1). L — Rio Sanchez (21-3).

Valor Christian hitting (ab-r-h-rbi) — Savannah Behabetz 3-0-0-0, Abigail Zuschlag 3-0-0-0, Lauren Foster 2-1-1-1, Alexandra Kinder 3-0-0-0, Madalyn Mitchell 3-0-0-0, Erica Mann 2-0-0-0, Alexandra Kilponen 2-0-0-0, Kate Meredit 2-0-0-0, Makenzie Wilson 2-0-0-0, Skylar Vaughn 0-0-0-0. Totals 22-1-1-1. HR — Foster (solo in the 7th).

Erie hitting (ab-r-h-rbi) — Rio Sanchez 3-0-1-0, Jade Phillips 0-0-0-0, Hannah Hackney 3-0-1-0, Katie Huonder 0-0-0-0, Katie Glaze 3-0-0-0, Lynsey Bauchert 3-0-1-0, Victoria Macias 3-0-0-0, Anne Fisher 3-0-1-0, Maddie Foster 3-0-0-0, Bri Wilson 2-0-0-0, Kara Kovets 2-0-0-0, Morgan Weber 0-0-0-0. Totals 25-0-4-0.

Valor Christian pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) — Kilponen 7-4-0-0-0-5.

Erie pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) — Sanchez 7-1-1-1-1-10.

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