Pitching will be key for Bears in regional semifinal | PostIndependent.com

Pitching will be key for Bears in regional semifinal

Phil Sandoval

No matter how you look at it, success at the Class 4A state high school softball tournament, comes down to one thing – pitching.

This year, Rifle’s Erica Graham has proven herself to be one of the best on the Western Slope. Beginning with Friday’s regional semifinal contest against Centaurus, she and the district-winner Bears have a bigger stage on which to display their talents.

Last week’s 4-3 seventh inning, come-from-behind victory over Delta earned Rifle (15-5) its first trip to the state tournament in five years. The win earned Rifle the No. 8 seed in the 16-team, single-elimination tournament.

Graham tossed a complete game and hit a home run against Delta for her 15th win of the season.

At the state tournament, she will match pitches against Holly Clark, Centaurus’ No. 1 hurler, in the tournament opener for both teams at Aurora’s Olympia Park at 8:30 a.m. today.

Clark has won 11 of the No. 9-seeded Warriors 12 games this season, and has posted a 1.87 earned-run average with 57 strikeouts.

Graham is among the state’s leaders in strikeouts with 107, and is one of Rifle’s top hitters. The senior has complied a .389 batting average with 16 RBIs.

But, the Bears are far from being a one-dimensional.

Catcher Skylar Bell leads the team with a .508 batting average and 23 RBIs. Shortstop Brooke St. Pierre’s .358 average and 12 RBIs adds more pop to the Bear offense.

Centaurus counters with Rachel Hancock, a .415 hitter with 15 RBIs, and Caitlin Dunn (.379, 15 RBIs).

If the Bears win, they face the winner of the Palisade-Pueblo East game at 2:30 p.m. this afternoon

Of the two teams, Pueblo East, seeded No. 1 by the Colorado High School Activities Association’s softball playoff committee, are favored to advance.

The 19-2 Eagles give the ball to Danielle Aguilara in big games.

The senior responded to coach Ben Garcia’s confidence by throwing three perfect games, and six no-hitters among her 13 wins (against two losses) this year.

Aguilara can also rack up K’s. In 15 games, she’s fanned 148 batters, and has a microscopic 0.15 ERA.

If Aguilara should falter, Garcia can call on No. 2 pitcher Amber Higby, to get the Eagles out of a jam. In limited action, Higby has a 6-0 record with a 0.18 ERA, along with 50 strikeouts. Offensively, Pueblo East is led by Janine Taylor, a .508 hitter with 18 RBI’s, Sara Eickelman (.423, 10 RBIs) and Higby (.411, 23 RBIs).

Palisade, the other team who advanced from the Western Slope, earned the No. 16 seed.

The Bulldogs top performers include all-leaguers Dayna Martin (5-5, 58 strikeouts, .407 batting average), Kelsey Harrington (.390, 15 RBIs) and Sammi Richards (.351, 18 RBIs).

The winner of Friday’s regional championships, advance to the next day’s state semifinals. Semifinal winners play for the 4A state championship at 2 p.m., Saturday afternoon.

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