Delaney Farnsworth can’t help but crack a smile when she comes up to the plate.
As the theme song from Disney’s Sofia The First blares from the speakers — and as her teammates boisterously sing along — the Smoky Hill junior relaxes, digs into the batter’s box and does damage.
Just like Sofia comes of age as royalty in the cartoon, Farnsworth and the Buffaloes believe they are coming into their own as a team in 2020.
“I was a girl in the village doing all right. Then I became a princess overnight,” the song goes. “Now I gotta figure how to do it right, so much to learn and see.”
That sums it up for coach B.J. Kingsbaker’s junior-laden team, which has made it through a couple of seasons of harsh lessons — specifically a couple of heartbreaking losses in the Class 5A state softball tournament — but seems to have figured out how to do it right this season.
The Buffaloes (currently No. 5 in CHSAANow.com’s coaches poll) are off to a 6-0 start — following a doubleheader sweep of Grandview Sept. 5 — and are in prime position in a season shortened significantly by the coronavirus pandemic.
Kingsbaker has noted the maturity that his team has exhibited this season and so far has worked through the pitfalls that tripped their younger version in season’s past.
“It’s good to see the experience of being in the playoffs the last two years and having some ups and downs has got them centered to the point where they know when they are having a bad practice and they know when they are having a bad at-bat and they know how to get themselves out of it a lot more than they did,” Kingsbaker said.
“They are more about what’s on the front of the jersey than what’s on the back, so that’s growth to me.”
Two years ago, Smoky Hill got an infusion of young talent in players such as the pitching duo of Farnsworth and Kenedy Sandoval and sluggers Izzy Giroux and Amrajie Bass.
That precocious team made it to the state tournament and had a major upset brewing against a much higher-seeded team in Rock Canyon before a late home run ended the game.
Last season, the Buffaloes lost a tiebreaker to Arapahoe for the league championship, then lost to the Warriors in the opening round of the state tournament in a game they led 1-0 into the bottom of the final inning.
It’s only strengthened the resolve.
“We’ve proven we can beat anyone, while we still have some things to improve on,” Farnsworth said. “If we can get those things down, then we’ll be able to get to state and possibly win state.”
It’s truly a year where anything can happen at the state tournament, but the coronavirus has made this season’s margin for error virtually razor thin for everybody.
In one of the tweaks of the Colorado High School Activities Association, regional tournaments — which made it possible for any seed to make it to state — were done away with, so the state tournament will be made up of eight league champions and just eight other teams based on final RPI standings.
“Hopefully all the chips fall where they are supposed to, but there are things out of our control,” said Kingsbaker. “Our goal from the beginning of the season was to win a league title and we’re on track for that, but we’ve got to take care of business.”
The Centennial League title quest for Smoky Hill goes through rival Cherokee Trail (5-1) and the Buffaloes got a big win against the hot-hitting Cougars in the season’s opening week. They hold a 5-4 lead late in a rematch that will be resumed Sept. 11.
That game was in the bottom of the sixth inning when it was halted because of lightning in the area and though Centennial League bylaws state that the game is official after five innings, the league has decided the game needs to be concluded.
Smoky Hill has shown itself to have the ingredients to win a state title.
The Buffaloes feature a high-powered offense keyed by big power sources such as Giroux (.600 batting average with two homers) and Bass (.538, 2 HRs), who make the heart of the batting order particularly hard to deal with, while senior Jahlisa Klear (.474) and sophomore Gabi Giroux (.556, team-high 12 RBI) have been setting the table at the top,
Farnsworth — who says Sofia The First “makes me laugh, so I clear my head” — is hitting better than ever before (.588, nine RBI) and the bottom of the order has come through when needed.
As much as Smoky Hill has developed a reputation for hitting — averaging 11-plus runs per game this season — pitching is likely to hold its ultimate fate.
Farnsworth, a righty, and the left-handed Sandoval form a duo that gives Kingsbaker the ability to give teams different looks within a game or series, something many teams can’t say.
“Our team is so much better when we can give two looks with two quality pitchers,” Kingsbaker said. “If we’re going to win what we want to win, we’re going to need both of them.”
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports