Rifle crowned Western Slope League champions following 15-9 victory over Eagle Valley
Rifle High senior Emma Speakman chose the spotlight of a championship-deciding game to hit her first two home runs of the season, propelling the Bears to a 15-9 victory over the Eagle Valley Devils and clinching the 4A Western Slope League Championship Thursday night.
“My first at-bat, I really didn’t think it was going to be a home run,” Speakman said. “The third one, it was a great feeling. This is the first year since I’ve been here that we have been able to call ourselves league champions. It was a surreal moment because we felt that we were due.”
Speakman’s first at-bat was a lead-off solo home run in the initial inning. She followed this up with a grand slam, which brought in senior Brooklynn Dennis, senior Jadyn Petree and sophomore Rylan Petree, stretching the Bears’ lead. Senior Blayke Hostettler also contributed with an RBI single in that inning.
The Devils narrowed the gap to 10-9 in the fifth inning, capitalizing on the Bears’ fielding errors and walks.
The Bears retaliated in the sixth inning. Sophomore Olivia Gordon, the relief pitcher, hit a line drive double, and pinch runner senior Kaelee Sabata scored on Dennis’ sacrifice fly. Gordon’s two clutch strikeouts with runners in scoring positions worked to maintain the Bears’ lead.
“It’s incredible to see the improvement in these girls,” Rifle Head Coach Troy Phillips said. “I have had the opportunity to coach a lot of these girls for quite some time, and I have seen them grow as a family. It’s made them a better team because of it.”
In the final inning, singles by sophomore Brynn Axelson and senior Zoe Hisel, a double by Dennis and Hostettler’s sacrifice fly cemented the Bears’ triumphant 15-9 win and their first league title since 2019.
“We have done a great job of not hanging our heads down when we lose,” Speakman said. “I think we have come a long way and have really grown as a team.”
The Bears’ roster, boasting eight seniors, has showcased a blend of experience and talent, pivotal in their impressive 14-3 overall season record.
“It’s a special class,” Phillips said. “These girls care about their teammates and they care about the program. It’s something that you always want to see as a coach.”
With the league championship now in their grasp, the focus shifts to their next challenge. Speakman, a 2022 First Team All-Western Slope Conference selection, echoes the sentiment of her teammates.
“This isn’t the end of the season,” Speakman affirmed. “We know that we still have a lot of work to do to reach our goals.”
The Rifle Bears look next toward their home matchup against Class 3A No. 5 Delta Panthers, 11 a.m., Saturday.
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