Lewis Geyer / Staff Photographer
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Pundits around the state identified the type of team Silver Creek was supposed to be well in advance of the Raptors doing so themselves.
But if the regional tournaments are any sort of barometer as to the potential a team has, those aforementioned who figured the Raptors may be in the mix for a state championship were spot on.
This isn’t the Raptors that struggled mightily in the Erie Festival of Champions and dropped to 4-3-1 at one point in the season. After winding through the Northern League and walloping traditionally strong Mullen and Pueblo West this past weekend, Silver Creek is convinced that it has peaked properly heading to the Class 4A state tournament at the Aurora Sports Park starting Friday.
With a lineup that has compiled a .444 team batting average, 245 runs and has played much better defensively than they showed the first three weeks of the year, why wouldn’t they be thrilled?
“I’m super excited because I feel like as a team we finally found our identity and I think this could be the best part of the season for us,” senior Kendra Green said earlier this week. “We’ve really gotten our act together and playing like we should be.
“Maybe the expectations did get to us a little bit, the pressure of it all and us trying to find our own expectations as well as meet everyone else’s, but I think now we’ve settled in and we’re excelling.”
Despite many returners from last year’s squad that fell 1-0 to eventual champion Valor Christian in the quarterfinals, it took quite a while for the Raptors to find themselves, head coach Ryan Beavers said. Even an early win against Broomfield felt a little empty after SCHS dropped yet another game to Mountain View, 9-4, on their home field on September 11 and were 6-4-1.
With the exception of a rematch against Mountain View the schedule did lighten up a smidgen, but at the same time Silver Creek got in full business mode the rest of the way.
Briefcases were the only thing missing from that team image at Pueblo West on Saturday, where the Raptors outscored their opponents 24-5 for their ninth and 10th consecutive wins.
“I don’t think there was a single person off their game on Saturday,” Green said. “I think this year we know a little bit more of what we’re up against, and overall we’re just very prepared mentally for (state).”
“Early on, we were just really hit or miss not so much in terms of execution but more just not having any direction with how they wanted to play the game,” Beavers added. “Ever since the Erie tournament, boy, they’ve snapped back into shape. It’s the team I thought I had preseason, they just took a few weeks to emerge. From a practice standpoint, and from a team culture and team attitude standpoint, I definitely like where we’re at right now.”
Immediately when speaking of the Raptors, one peers to the heavy hitting team that has blasted 24 home runs this year (Jetta Nannen leads the team with eight while Green is right there with seven), but the team is more focused on being sound in all facets of play as they enter Friday’s game against Conifer.
They’ve committed just 14 errors in the past 10 games — a complete reversal from the 34 they made the first 11 contests — and pitchers Dana Dwyer, Nannen and Green have complemented each other well.
You’ll find a majority of teams relying on a single ace at state, but that’s not what you’ll see in the Raptors.
And that’s the way they like it.
“The goal is to keep kids engaged as much as I possibly can while still focusing on winning, and I love we have a squad where we’re able to us our entire bench,” Beavers said, adding he used five outfielders in the regional. “We really have four pitchers, and to have options in the circle and really in every position is something we can use to our advantage. I think that really showed up this weekend.”
The Raptors have made a habit of being a tough out the past three years at state, but Silver Creek is still looking for that second-round win that keeps them playing a second day. Falling in that one-run game to Valor was about as close as they’ve come, and a rematch looms if both the Raptors and Eagles win their first-round contests Friday.
While Green said she and her teammates have been looking forward to that possibility all season, Beavers will keep the focus this week on the task at hand that is the Conifer Lobos.
“We just kind of talked all along about how much it matters how you’re playing in October, so hats off to the kids for finding their groove and playing their best softball right now,” Beavers said. “It’s pretty neat to see a group of kids play the way they know how and doing their job to the best of their ability, no matter what that job may be.”