Call the Smoky Hill softball team the Cinderella of the Class 5A state tournament if you will, but the Buffs intend to do some business now they are in.
Going into Oct. 17 5A regional tournaments, Smoky Hill had the No. 25 seed and likely had few outside Centennial League circles that believed it would survive all the way to the state tournament.
But the Buffaloes displayed all the positive traits they had — good pitching, strong defense and timely hitting — at the right time, winning their last two games at the Region 2 tournament to snap a postseason drought for the program that stretched all the way back to 2014.
“We are a little bit of a Cinderella, but we have nothing to lose,” said Smoky Hill coach Mark Siemer, whose team joined Eaglecrest and Grandview among Aurora teams to qualify for the 5A state tournament, which runs Oct. 24-25 at the Aurora Sports Park after weather pushed it back a day.
“If we play well, teams are scared of us and they know that we have the pitching, catching and hitting to beat them,” he added. “If we start making errors than we are going to lose like anybody would, but we’ve worked hard to get this chance. The school is proud of our program and my biggest problem is keeping them calm.”
Smoky Hill put it all together to win two straight elimination games at its regional tournament, topping ThunderRidge (6-1) — with a home run by sophomore catcher Emilie Roberts the spark — and topping a Cherokee Trail team that beat it twice during Centennial League play 5-3 in 10 innings.
Senior pitcher Maddie Siemer gave up just four runs over 17 innings in the last two games, Roberts homered in both games and drove in five runs and several other players got key hits or made defensive plays to lift the Buffs to victory.
Smoky Hill (14-8) received the 16th seed among the 16 state qualifiers, but the Buffs don’t feel overwhelmed going into a tournament that is generally considered to be very wide open.
After all, Smoky Hill dealt No. 1 Chaparral (18-3) — its opponent in a 10 a.m. first round game on Oct. 24 — a 5-4 loss earlier in the season and knows it can win again.
“We went 6-0 against Continental League teams, so I’d like to keep that streak alive,” Siemer said.
Like Smoky Hill, defending state champion Grandview and Eaglecrest both had to rebound from losses at their regionals to secure the second berths in the state tournament.
The sixth-seeded Wolves dropped a 10-0 game to No. 27 Dakota Ridge in their opener, but coach Dave Thies pulled his starters when the game got out of hand, knowing he’d need two wins to advance.
Senior Jordyn McDaniel pitched a complete game shutout to beat Pine Creek, allowing senior ace Courtney Browne to focus on beating Dakota Ridge in the final game, which she did in a 5-3 victory.
Grandview (15-7) takes the No. 11 seed into the tournament, which pits it against No. 6 Fort Collins (15-6) at 12:15 p.m. Oct. 24 in the opening round, but Thies goes into it knowing what it takes to hoist the championship trophy.
“This tournament can go a lot of different directions depending on whoever is the hottest,” Thies said. “The No. 16 seed beat the No. 1 already, so I can see some pretty big upsets of higher seeds. It’s going to come down to who executes, hits the ball and plays good defense.
“For us, it’s huge to have that championship experience nobody else has.”
Eaglecrest had a state tournament berth in its grasp in the Region 7 championship game against Chatfield in Loveland, only to surrender eight runs in the seventh inning and end up losing, which forced coach Yvette Hendrian’s team to beat host Loveland for the other state spot.
With her top two pitchers, seniors Sarah Bushman and Alexa Romero, taxed by the first two games, Hendrian gave junior Kathleen Ingram a chance on the mound in the final game and she kept Eaglecrest in the game before it surged to a 10-7 victory.
The Raptors (15-7) earned their fourth straight trip to the state tournament and received the No. 12 seed, which puts them opposite No. 5 Rocky Mountain (15-6) at 10 a.m. Oct. 24 in the opening round.
Hendrian knows she has now three pitchers she can count on, a difference-making hitter in the middle of the lineup in slugging sophomore Kailey Wilson, plus a handful of playoff-tested seniors and some freshmen who all have contributed to key spots.
It’s the right mix for a potential state title run, but Hendrian is taking a more relaxed attitude this time.
“Last year, the pressure was on and on paper maybe we should have won state,” Hendrian said. “But I about lost my mind and I became a lunatic and the girls became lunatics, so we really did try to take a different approach on what we are trying to do. Now, our goal is one game at a time. Get the first, get the second and see what happens.”
Full state tournament bracket and schedule, here.
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel