AURORA — At a certain point watching Erie softball the past few days, you could feel something special was brewing, and the term “team of destiny” immediately pops into your head.
On Saturday, as No. 14 seed, Erie took down No. 1 Golden and No. 2 Holy Family in back-to-back rounds at Aurora Sports Park and thus clinched its first 4A softball state title since 2010.
“We’ve had ups and downs throughout the entire season, but we stayed together at the end of it, and every single person out there deserves this spot,” Erie senior shortstop Madysun Vaughan said after the Golden victory in the state final. “We worked so hard, and in my opinion, we didn’t necessarily deserve the 14th seed, but you know it was because of those low games we had. It just proves that any team can come out and get it. Such a great feeling to go out like this.”
It all started at 10 a.m. with a 9-5 win against conference foe, Holy Family — who defeated Erie the prior two matchups this season 10-7 and 7-3, respectively. Holy Family, the 2018 title-winner, had their number it appeared. But on Saturday, the Erie offense exploded for 12 hits and received an excellent complete game, 92-pitch outing from senior Megan Loveland.
“From the beginning of the season — and I’m not saying this jokingly — to beat Erie, you have to keep them under 10 runs, and we know that,” Holy Family coach Mitchell Martinez said after their matchup with Erie on Saturday. “We know they are going to score, they got the five on us, and they made plays today. Our girls put the ball in play, and they just made plays, and that’s all you can ever ask, our girls gave great effort.”
Little did Golden know, however, that Erie and its dynamic offense was just getting started. In the 18-hit title-contest explosion, Golden senior pitcher Emma Graham could not contain the Erie offense after allowing just seven hits and one run against Silver Creek the game prior.
“I’m super proud of the offense” first-year Erie coach Vanessa Smith said. “They never, ever, ever die. They never stop believing, and they know they can hit. That is something you can’t coach, you can’t teach, they just have it.”
Despite scoring first on a solo home run from senior Kenzie Middleton, the Tigers responded — as they did all day — with five runs in the second. The first two runs came off the bat of senior Kaylee Armstrong’s home run before singles by seniors Jen Williams, Lauren Russell and Vaughan expanded the lead — for the time being.
Answering with a 3-run shot by Golden senior Kayla Middleton, the Demons notched things at six in the bottom of the fourth to put on a twist that Erie — once again — answered.
A leadoff double by Armstrong in the top half of the fifth followed by a double from sophomore Emma Osborne put control back onto the Erie side before Golden took its first lead since the opening inning in the bottom half. Crossing the plate on an error by Vaughan, at shortstop, tied the affair at 7-7 before a ringing double from Kayla Middleton put the Demons ahead 8-7. Struggling in the field, the normally sure-handed Vaughan didn’t let the mistakes block the sight of helping her team win a ballgame.
And boy, did she come up in a big way as the contest marched into the eighth inning. Recording the go-ahead 2-run homer — her second of the afternoon — Vaughan was followed by another 2-run shot by Armstrong to put the lead at a comfortable margin for senior pitcher Alyssa Barnett.
“It was amazing, Vaughn said. “Every single person on the team had a role to play in that game, and I knew they had my back whenever I messed up. But, I knew I was going to be okay, and I had their back too.”
Hired less than two weeks before the regular season began, Smith puts herself in elite company taking this program to a state title after stating, “we’ve kind of been holding on tight.”
Thanks In part to nine seniors, including catcher and middle of the lineup threat, Kat Sackett, Erie walks away with its 12th softball state title in program history.
The marvelous runs of Holy Family and Silver Creek came to an end in the semifinals, but as both teams lose a combined five seniors (HF two, SCHS three), these two programs will be back.
“One of the things I think I am most proud of at Silver Creek is our culture the last 13 years,” Silver Creek coach Ryan Beavers said. “These girls are an extension of the girls in 2007 that started this turnaround of Silver Creek. We haven’t had to rebuild here in 13 years despite all of the turnover. It’s a testament to those kids in maintaining that culture, and we let them define their own identity.”
Reaching the state tournament 10 of the last 13 years, the Raptors could be on the cusp of a state title, and the same can be said for Martinez and his incredibly talented roster coming back.
“Our two seniors came up big all year long, and they both had great games today,” Martinez said. “This team battles, they are a wonderful team. We knew we had some spots to fill in, and we had people doing things that hadn’t done it, and I thought they did a great job. I love this team, they work hard, and that’s all you can ever ask for kids.”