FORT COLLINS | Smoky Hill’s softball suffering in the postseason continued Thursday with a heartbreaking 2-1 extra-inning loss to Fossil Ridge in the Class 5A state quarterfinals.
The same cruelty — a walk-off home run by an opponent — has befallen the Buffaloes four times in the last six seasons in the state tournament, the latest coming at the hands of the SaberCats, who got a solo blast from Kodi Alvord leading off the bottom of the eighth inning to deny Smoky Hill a trip to the semifinals.
Coach B.J. Kingsbaker’s fifth-seeded Buffaloes had a one-run lead through five innings before No. 4 Fossil Ridge (15-3) scratched across the tying run in the bottom of the sixth inning and made a big defensive play in the top of the eighth before getting the run that sends its to the Aurora Sports Park for a matchup with No. 8 Grand Junction Central Saturday.
“Those were two good teams out there battling…we just couldn’t get over the hump,” said a forlorn Kingsbaker, whose team lost on a walk-off home run to Rock Canyon in 2018 and lost a 10-run contest to Arapahoe on a homer last season, both in games it led late.
Smoky Hill, which won the Centennial League championship for the first time since 2003, finished 16-2 on the season. The Buffaloes’ only other loss came to league rival Cherokee Trail, which had its quarterfinal with Broomfield suspended in the ninth inning by darkness.
In a pitching duel between Smoky Hill junior Delaney Farnsworth and the SaberCats’ Nikki McGaffin, Smoky Hill had gained the advantage with a single run in the fourth inning when junior Paris Elsberry knocked in Farnsworth.
Fossil Ridge cashed in on a leadoff double in the sixth inning and tied it on a grounder at a drawn-in infield.
Smoky Hill had a prime chance to go ahead in the top of the eighth inning when junior Kenedy Sandoval doubled to left field to open the inning and senior pinch runner Kailen Theel got to third after sophomore Eliana Trujillo executed a sacrifice bunt with two strikes.
Kingsbaker called for a squeeze play with senior leadoff hitter Jahlisa Klear at the plate, but Klear’s bunt popped into the air and was snared by Fossil Ridge first baseman Jordan McKinnon, who fired to third base for a double play as Theel tried to retreat after getting halfway towards the plate.
Alvord worked a 2-2 count against Farnsworth before sending a drive over the fence in center field.
“I feel bad for Delaney more than anybody else, she pitched her butt off; she threw a pitch that had worked all day and the girl hit it to the shortest part of the field,” Kingsbaker said of Farnsworth, who threw a complete game shutout against Rocky Mountain in the opening round and had surrendered only one home run in 61 2/3 innings of work coming into the game.
The only consolation for Kingsbaker — who truly believed he had the team to win a state championship — is that his team is largely expected to return next season. He’ll have a large senior group that will have plenty of varsity experience and plenty of motivation.
“Our motto from the start of the season is take the next step and I think we did,” Kingsbaker said. “We went further in state and we won the Centennial League. But i’s not where we want to be and we certainly believe we can play with that team over there. It just didn’t end the way we wanted it to end.”
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports
CLASS 5A STATE SOFTBALL QUARTERFINAL
FOSSIL RIDGE 2, SMOKY HILL 1 (8 INN.)
Score by innings (r-h-e):
Smoky Hill 000 100 00 — 1 5 0
Fossil Ridge 000 001 01 — 2 7 0
WP — Fossil Ridge: Nikki McGaffin. LP — Smoky Hill: Delaney Farnsworth. Smoky Hill hitting: Paris Elsberry 2 hits, RBI; Kenedy Sandoval 2 hits, 2B