James Manu wears the Rangeview softball team’s progress on his left wrist.
The Raiders’ second-year coach sports a color-coded playsheet under clear plastic that he uses when his team is up to bat.
That sheet is decidedly bigger this season and it has sparked Rangeview to a 9-4 start to the 2019 season that has the program on pace for its best season in a decade.
“Last year, we had two calls when we were hitting: bunt and steal,” Manu said following his team’s 11-10 win over Abraham Lincoln Sept. 14, a game in which the Raiders scored three times in the bottom of the seventh for a walk-off victory.
“This year, we have six or seven,” he added. “I didn’t want to come in and throw a bunch at them the first year, just see what kind of athletes you have. We have some great athletes, but we also have holes. Because of that, I tell the girls that if they don’t do their job, the puzzle falls apart. I’m still trying to figure out how each piece fits together.”
Thus far in the new season, Manu has been a master puzzler.
The Raiders finished under .500 for the past three seasons — including last season, when they suffered through a 6-14-1 campaign in the first season under Manu — but currently have the second-most wins of any Aurora program behind Smoky Hill (13) through the first few weeks of the new season.
“It feels a lot better this season,” said senior Katiana Williams, a four-year varsity player.
“Last year was not a fun season. A lot of us were just like ‘Let’s get this season over’ because we knew we weren’t going to get anywhere. But this year, when you have everything going and those players, you can achieve wins and you feel like you can go somewhere.”
Offense has been where the difference has really shown up for Rangeview.
The Raiders tallied just 206 runs last season in 21 games, but already have crossed the play 149 times this season for an average of 11.5 runs per game, three better than in 2018.
Williams leads the way with a robust .605 batting average (second-best among Aurora players behind Smoky Hill sophomore Izzy Giroux, currently hitting .652), with junior Ivy Robinson next at .478.
With almost every regular hitting above .300 and four above .400, the Raiders have been getting it done from the top of the lineup to the bottom this season.
Even a two-run deficit against Lincoln going into the last at-bat didn’t keep Rangeview from believing it could come back. Robinson, in the midst of a slump, put a good two-strike swing on a pitch with the bases loaded that went to center field and brought home a run for a walk-off victory.
“I had faith in my team, I knew we could do it,” Robinson said. “I didn’t have any doubts with how we are playing this year.”
Though Rangeview has hit some speedbumps against teams like Adams City (a 16-12 loss) and Brighton (a disappointing 15-0 loss Sept. 17), thoughts of making a postseason have been dancing in the Raiders’ heads.
Through games of Sept. 18, Rangeview sits in the No. 22 spot in the Class 5A RPI standings, which would put them in position for a postseason berth if they were able to stay there. Eight league champions automatically make the 5A regional round, with 24 others added as wild cards, largely on the basis of RPI.
These Raiders — who last qualified for the postseason in 2011 under former coach Yvette Hendrian, who is now at Eaglecrest — hope to make it a regular occurrence, starting with them.
“Since this is my fourth year, I want to keep this going,” Williams said. “If we hit regionals this year, I want them to make it to state next year. I know Rangeview can be a good team.”
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports
AURORA SOFTBALL STANDINGS (THROUGH SEPT. 18)
Smoky Hill (13-2), Rangeview (9-4), Cherokee Trail (7-5), Hinkley (7-7), Vista PEAK (5-9), Overland (4-10), Eaglecrest (4-11-1), Aurora Central (2-11), Regis Jesuit (1-10)