Editor’s note: The BoCoPreps staff is presenting a look back on some of the best local dynasty teams of the past 20 seasons in a series that will last through the summer. They will appear in the Friday editions of the Boulder Daily Camera and Longmont Times-Call.
The Erie softball team became the Class 4A state champions this past fall, winning their first state title since the 2010 season.
Claiming more than one championship trophy in a 10-year span is an incredible achievement for any high school program. In their case and though it sounds a bit ridiculous to say, the 2019 Tigers winning state hearkened back to a bygone era when Erie winning softball titles was commonplace.
The Tigers’ 12 state titles are the most all-time of any program in Colorado and are double what the next closest teams have won, and all but one of them took place during a run of 11 championships in 13 seasons from 1998 to 2010. The number of times in its history that Colorado has seen a dynastic reign of its like can be counted on one person’s fingers.
“When we put on that Erie jersey, we weren’t playing for ourselves anymore, we were playing for something bigger: for the generations of teams before us, for our town, for our family, for our community, for our legacy,” Mariah Lopez said. “Winning state wasn’t a goal. It was an expectation and a responsibility.”
Then known as Mariah Bledsoe, a daughter of 20-year head coach Bob Bledsoe who oversaw the Tigers stronghold of 3A softball in the 2000s, Lopez won four state titles with the Tigers from 2007-10. That stretch of four straight titles included three in Class 3A and one in 4A, and was preceded by a runner-up finish in 2006.
From 2000-05, the Tigers won six straight 3A championships. They were runners-up in 1999 following a 1998 season in which they claimed their first-ever state title. Over the course of their run, the Tigers posted shutouts in seven of the 11 title games they won.
“You can’t use the ‘D-word’ when you’re in the midst of that type of run because you want your players to be confident, not overconfident,” Bob Bledsoe said. “I wanted our players to understand that we’re only good and we’ll only continue to be good because you’re willing to put in the work it takes. I’m OK talking about it now because I’m not in the midst of it, but it was really only a dynasty because we were blessed to have incredible players coming through Erie.
“It always seemed like we had an amazing pitcher every season and the next year we’d have a kid who was just as good or better than the last year. We had great players and we had great kids who really worked hard and bought in to what our coaches were trying to get out of them. It was just good fortune, I think.”
Building the Tigers’ dynasty took good fortune and plenty of hard work, and it didn’t happen right away. For their first three seasons with a varsity program, the Tigers played in the 4A classification because there was no Class 3A yet. Bledsoe scheduled the toughest competition he could find and the Tigers took their lumps, but it also helped the program rise quickly.
“We went out and I think we were .500 the first year,” Bledsoe said. “We had the option to play a JV-only schedule for our first year but we figured if we were going to put in the work and play the games, we wanted there to be the potential for a postseason reward at the end. I tried to schedule losses and I wanted us to play the best because that’s how you become the best.”
While constructing a dynastic program, Bledsoe and the early Tigers teams also developed a culture. Before long, young players in the area like Lopez came to idolize the high school players and eagerly await the day when their time would come to put on an Erie Tigers jersey. At camps, they would learn the team pledges and prayers, practice the cheers and superstitions, and begin forming relationships and bonds with many players who would one day became their high school teammates and carry on the Erie legacy.
Dozens of Erie players have gone on to play at the collegiate level and many of them return. There are currently three former players – Haley Finleon, Sarah Kosorok and Axie Lucas – serving as assistants on current Erie head coach Vanessa Smith’s staff.
“It was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had to be part of a program like Erie’s,” Finleon, 27, said. “I grew up watching the team and getting to win four state championships with Erie was amazing because it was something I had looked forward to and hoped for since I was a little kid going to Erie camps. There are so many traditions and values that are handed down over the years and being a part of that is something very special.”
The Tigers compiled a record of 405-87 under Bledsoe, who has been inducted into several softball halls of fame for shepherding the Tigers’ dynasty of the 2000s.
Details of the Dynasty: Erie softball
Coach: Bob Bledsoe
Dynasty years: Between 1998 and 2010 under Bledsoe, the Tigers won 11 state titles in 13 seasons between Classes 3A and 4A, and were the state’s most dominant force. They also finished runners-up twice (1999 and 2006) and made the state tournament every single year. The move up to 4A has been met with some great seasons, including a 2019 state title under current head coach Vanessa Smith.
Major players: Brittni Carlson (1998-2001, catcher), Mariah Lopez (2007-10, pitcher), Melanie Mahoney (1997-2000, pitcher), Ashlie Ortega (2005-08, infielder).
Most dominant moment: The 1998 team went 26-0 and won the 3A state championship, scoring 326 runs while allowing just 17. But in the past 20 years, perhaps the Tigers’ most dominant moment occurred while they were looking to silence their many doubters after moving up to 4A in 2010. The Tigers lost that season’s final regular season game, 3-0 to Windsor, which was their only in-state loss of the campaign. They rebounded from that defeat to outscore their six postseason opponents – Thompson Valley, Pueblo South, Cheyenne Mountain, Pueblo East, Wheat Ridge and D’Evelyn – by a combined 62-9 to capture that 4A crown.
2010 – 4A champions; 2009 – 3A champions; 2008 – 3A champions; 2007 – 3A champions; 2006 – 3A runners-up; 2005 – 3A champions; 2004 – 3A champions; 2003 – 3A champions; 2002 – 3A champions; 2001 – 3A champions; 2000 – 3A champions; 1999 – 3A runners-up; 1998 – 3A champions