A softball that landed over the fence last October broke the hearts of the Smoky Hill softball team, but it also planted a seed for growth.
The Buffaloes had an upset win over Rock Canyon to open the Class 5A state softball tournament in their grasp, but a two-run home run dashed the young team’s dreams.
A year later and with a small group of determined, driven seniors leading the way, Smoky Hill is a 19-win team (so far) that is showing signs that it has taken the next step to contend.
“That game was a bummer, we were on top and then a walk-off two-run home run knocked us out,” Smoky Hill senior Yasmine Ybarra recalled about the game in which a 2-1 lead disappeared on a one-out two-run home run in the bottom of the seventh inning.
“It’s devastating because you didn’t do it for your seniors,” he added. “Now, we are hungry and want to be up there. We want to play as hard as we can and win that state championship. That’s what we’re striving for.”
Playing center field in that game, senior Cameron Lyons got the best view of the home run that ripped their hearts out.
Lyons sprinted back to the wire fence and fell over it without a real chance to catch it.
“It was hard, but it was a great experience at state for us to have,” Lyons said. “I knew we were going to back with a vengeance.”
The loss seems to have furthered the process of shaping a program that began when B.J. Kingsbaker took over as head coach in 2016, when Ybarra and Lyons made the varsity roster as freshmen.
Smoky Hill had just come off a trip to the state tournament — which ironically enough also ended on a walk-off home run — but hovered primarily around the .500 mark.
Adding young players by the year who began to contribute immediately and buying in more and more to what the energetic Kingsbaker preached, the Buffaloes’ win total increased from 11 to 12 in 2017 to 15 in 2018 and to 19 so far in 2019, with the chance for a 20th in the season finale against Cherokee Trail Oct. 11.
A win against the Cougars would give the program 20 wins for the first time since 2003 — when the Buffaloes lost in the state championship game — and likely sew up hosting duties for one of the 5A regional tournaments.
“Honestly, it’s amazing; when I was a freshman, we were alright and we were making our come up, but even with Emily Roberts and Kayla Banks (2017 graduates), we never went this far into the season like this,” Ybarra said. “It feels like Smoky Hill has gone somewhere amazingly far since then.”
The seniors — Ybarra, Lyons and reserve Jordan Espinosa, a three-year varsity player — have been at forefront of making that happen, pushing their teammates in drills and to work on finishing games like last year’s team didn’t.
“Our seniors’ energy has carried us,” Kingsbaker said. “They just don’t let these girls take a day off and because of that, we’re doing good things.”
From an on-field standpoint, Ybarra has been the lethal hitter she’s been for her entire career with six home runs, 29 RBI and a .407 batting average. Lyons has gotten her power stroke going of late with three home runs in the last five games to go with a strong average.
Combined with sophomores Izzy Giroux (team-best .571 average, seven homers and 32 RBI) and Amrajie Bass (.431 average, 15 extra base hits) and freshman Gabi Giroux (.426 average, 18 RBI), Smoky Hill’s lineup is as deadly as its ever been. The addition of Grandview baseball coach Scott Henry as a full time assistant has helped with the offense.
The pitching staff of sophomores Delaney Farnsworth, Kenedy Sandoval and Paris Elsberry boast a team ERA of just 2.12 and have the ability to give multiple looks.
The Buffs’ belief of what they had became crystalized during a tournament in early September in which they posted back-to-back wins over Arapahoe and Prairie View, falling just short of invoking the mercy rule twice.
“At the time, both of those teams were undefeated and top five in the state, so at that point I think everybody believed ‘Ok, maybe this is the real thing,'” Kingsbaker said.
“Along the way, it has been small victories. We haven’t played the No. 1 team in the state (that same Rock Canyon team), but we’ve played a lot of teams that we’ve struggled against in the past and one by one we’ve overcome those hurdles.”
Though Kingsbaker and the seniors have had to get on the team during the course of their season about keeping focus, the memory of last season’s heartbreaking end guards them against complacency.
“Sometimes we’ll come to practice and we think ‘Do we want to do this?'” Lyons said. “But at the end of the day, we know we have to because of what happened last year.”
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports
AURORA SOFTBALL RECORDS (THROUGH OCT. 9)
Smoky Hill 19-3 (5-1 Centennial League); Cherokee Trail 13-9 (4-2 Centennial League); Rangeview 11-8 (2-6 EMAC); Grandview 11-12 (4-3 Centennial League); Hinkley 9-12 (2-7 EMAC); Vista PEAK Prep 7-14 (4-4 EMAC); Eaglecrest 6-15-1 (3-4 Centennial League); Regis Jesuit 5-16 (3-7 Continental League); Overland 5-17 (0-7 Centennial League); Aurora Central 2-17 (0-8 EMAC)