Liz Carter packed a lot of games into a short span early in the season for her Grandview softball team to carve out more time for practice.
The Wolves have made the strategy pay off in a big way thus far.
An eight-win team a year ago, Grandview already has an Aurora-best 12 wins, is in the driver’s seat in the chase for the Centennial League championship and is in position to revise its goals for the season day by day.
“We got the majority of our non-league play in two tournaments because my goal was to get as much practice time as possible early in the season,” Carter said after her team’s 10-7 victory at Eaglecrest Sept. 22.
“We took a more team-first approach and it has paid off for us. It’s great when a plan works out,” she added.
With a team that has a lot of young players, the emphasis on building an identity for the team before reaching the important part of the season seemed to be the best course for Carter, who had 13 total wins in her first two seasons with the program.
The Wolves didn’t have a lot to show in the win column in their early games as they started 1-4, but all of those losses came to the teams that hold four of the top spots in the most recent CHSAANow.com’s Class 5A coaches poll in No. 1 Columbine, No. 2 Douglas County, No. 3 Valor Christian and No. 5 Legend.
Grandview played the currently undefeated Rebels to within three runs, were within two of the Huskies and Eagles. The Wolves also lost a one-run game to current No. 8 Ponderosa.
“It was a hard pill to swallow for them to be playing really good softball and come away with almost no wins, but they stuck with it,” Carter said. “They bought into what we were saying and they are better for it now.”
Indeed, the attention on chemistry and building belief has paid off in a big way, especially when it has come to Centennial League play.
The Wolves were 3-9 against league opponents in 2021, but made it through the first of two rounds of play in the league this season with a 7-0 mark, which included a 15-0 road win at rival Cherokee Trail, which dealt them two losses by a combined 16 runs last season. In two of their bigger tests, they had to rally to beat Cherry Creek 4-3 and then got down six runs after just two innings on on the road against rival Eaglecrest.
Undeterred, Grandview came all the way off the mat with 10 of the last 11 runs — boosted by a pair of home runs from junior Aubrey DeJong, including a no-doubter in the seventh inning — to victory that will continue to resonate for the rest of the season.
“I think we’ve learned that we have a lot of fight,” said senior pitcher Makayla Valle, who allowed just one run in the last five innings to seal the win. “We have girls from freshmen to seniors and with girls of many grade levels, we’ve been able to bond on and off the field. We’ve been able to build that team chemistry, so we’re able to fight and pick each other up. That showed this game.”
Carter was thrilled to win at Eaglecrest (where she played in her high school days), but she thought the victory was a perfect illustration of what her team is about this season.
“I believe in this team no matter what,” she said. “Eaglecrest could have put up 10 runs early and it wouldn’t have made a difference. These girls have a plan, they know what they are capable of and it’s just amazing to watch them play right now.”
The formula is in place, especially as Grandview’s offense has made huge strides. The Wolves scored a total of 107 runs in 23 games a year ago, but already have 151 in 18 this season.
Junior Kristin Gallego had a sparkling .587 batting average through 17 games and led the team with 37 hits and 26 RBI. Junior Ashley Miller (.423), sophomore Brooklyn Heil (.420) and Sasha Kennedy (.404) — the only freshman on the roster — all have hit for average and drove in double-digit runs, as have Valle, junior Peytann Weiland and sophomore Maya Sprague.
On the mound, Valle (6-3, 2.74 ERA and 95 strikeouts in 69 innings with help from an added screwball she said she is comfortable throwing in any situation in addition to an improved curve) leading a deeper pitching staff than year’s past. Sophomore Kamaya Harris is 4-1 with a 2.84 ERA.
Valle, in her fourth season on varsity, is hoping that the “ends on a good note,” and has enjoyed watching the precocious play of players such as Kennedy.
Currently sitting No. 12 in CHSAA’s postseason seeding formula with five games remaining, Grandview is in position for a strong finish and seeks to make a run at ending a drought of making the 5A state tournament that has stretched back to 2015, the season after the program won its one and only state championship.
“I think our team goal is to make it to regionals handily, not just eek it and then it would change game to game,” Carter said. “I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports
AURORA SOFTBALL RECORDS (THROUGH GAMES OF SEPT. 27)
Grandview 12-6; Cherokee Trail 11-5; Rangeview 9-7; Eaglecrest 9-9; Vista PEAK 9-9; Smoky Hill 5-12; Overland 4-11; Gateway 2-6; Aurora Central 0-17