Seniors help fuel Jaguars' softball surge
Class 5A regional state softball playoff action is scheduled to start Oct. 12 and Rock Canyon appears ready.
The Jaguars lost three of their first five games this season, but moved into a first-place Continental League tie with Legend after a 5-1 triumph over the Titans Sept. 28.
Rock Canyon, 11-4 overall, and Legend, 12-4, are both 6-1 in the league with three regular-season games remaining.
The Titans played Castle View Sept. 30 and Highlands Ranch Oct. 2, with the league finale against Regis Jesuit scheduled Oct. 5. Legend played Heritage Sept. 30 and Chaparral Oct. 1. The Titans meet Mountain Vista Oct. 4.
“We are definitely peaking at the right time,” said Rock Canyon senior pitcher Lauren Paige. “The Legend game was really needed for our confidence. We have to win out going forward into the playoffs.”
Jaguars coach Debora Kortbawi notes the seven seniors on her team have been ringleaders to Rock Canyon's late season surge.
“I don't ever think you can write these girls off, they won't allow you to,” she said. “Our seniors stepped up and started bringing the intensity.
“This senior class is just ridiculous. They've been through this for four years. They know what it takes to get to the Final Four. They said now is the time to bring up the intensity.”
Rock Canyon has played its way into the Class 5A Final Four the past three seasons and appears to be playing well down the stretch again this year.
Freshman Sloane Stewartson delivered a two-run double down the right field line in the second inning to push the Jaquars ahead 2-0 in the showdown game against the Titans that was moved from Rock Canyon to Legend because of unplayable field conditions.
Paige had an RBI single in the third while Shen Lu Swartout and Lauren Yacks came through with run-scoring singles in the fourth and fifth innings to stake Rock Canyon to a 5-0 lead.
Legend was not able to produce the big hits despite scattering seven hits off Paige, who struck out four and worked out of jams in the fifth and sixth frames.
The Titans loaded the bases with one out in the fifth, but Paige induced two ground ball force-outs to end the Legend uprising.
Legend had runners on first and second with nobody out in the sixth, but a po-up to third base and a comeback grounder to Paige that wound up as a double play because of a Titans base running blunder short-circuited another Titans' scoring opportunity.
“I have all the confidence in the world in my defense,” said Paige. “I just knew if I made them put the ball in play, the defense would make some spectacular plays and they did.
“I have one of the best defenses in the entire state. I don't have to worry about doing it by myself.”
Grabbing the lead early against the Titans was a key to the victory.
“The one good thing about this team this year is they are very focused,” said Kortbawi. “They are very good with their communication. We had a good lead against Legend. We talked about getting the lead from the beginning. That gave us a little bit where we could focus on getting the outs and not focus on not letting the runners score.”
Legend did score in the seventh after Karlee Arnold's one-out triple. She scored on a fielder's choice grounder by Brooke Doumer.
Arnold and Robyn Leighton each had two hits for the Titans.
Swartout, Paige, Stewartson and Zayne Blumberg collected two hits to lead Rock Canyon's 11-hit attack against Legend pitcher Janelle Gardner.