AURORA – Fergie and Miley Cyrus were two of the many artists that appeared in “Bus-Ride Karaoke” on the drive back from Aurora Sports Park and Day #1 of the CHSAA State Softball Tournament.
For the broadcast crew, the event-filled day began as soon as the school day began. The goal of the day was to have three complete broadcasts, two at state softball, and football vs. Roosevelt that night. Then came the unplanned, delays on the field.
“Softball’s start times are being bumped by 15-20 minutes due to frost on the field this morning.” tweeted CHSAA Director of Digital Media Ryan Casey at 8:59 this morning, 1 hour before the team and the crew left Erie High School. “First games will start at 10:15 or 10:20.”
After hearing the news, the crew finish packing all the equipment and set out for Aurora Sports Park. Besides getting stuck behind a train, there was minimal traffic on the way to Aurora, a surprise for any Colorado native.
A stamp of a glove and a media pass later, the crew was prepared to begin a day of broadcasting. Erie was in the second set of games that day, with a new start time of 12:35 on Field #1, just after the competition between top seeded Golden and 16 seed Evergreen.
After Golden ended the game with a walk off in the bottom of the ninth, Erie was finally ready to take the field. The Tigers start time was now almost an hour later than originally scheduled, with the first pitch being thrown out at 1:08 p.m.
Erie starts out strong, with a 3-0 lead after the first inning. They continued to dominate through innings two, three, and four, extending their lead to 7-3 at the top of the fifth. Then something changed in Pueblo South, and Erie softball began to bleed. By the end of the fifth, the score had flipped with Pueblo South leading the Tigers 13-7.
“We were not going to give up, so we all came together.” says senior Megan Loveland, the pitcher for both of today’s games. This is her third state appearance, her first in the semifinal games. “You’re playing for your sisters instead of yourself.”
“Remember Why You Started” is the team motto for the year, plastered on shirts, mugs, posters, and everything else you can think of, a subtle reminder for each player. “I’ve been playing since I was 8, and I haven’t stopped playing because I just love it so much.” says Loveland. This subtle reminder acting as a fuel to keep each girl from never giving up. Kat Sackett, who has committed to play softball at Marshall University commented, “For me personally, I play a lot of club ball and it’s based around college exposure, so when we get to play high school ball, it’s more focused on the love of the game.”
A rocket from sophomore Paige Gilbert at the end of the sixth inning brought Erie back within striking distance of the Colts. They scored two runs, and brought the score to 13-9 with Pueblo South still on top. The top of the seventh held a crucial home run from senior Kaylee Armstrong that flipped the momentum back into Erie’s favor. Another senior, Jen Williams hit a long one to right field, and after being mishandled by the Colts, Erie scored 2 runs, taking the Colts to a one run lead at 13-12.
The Tigers were down by one in the seventh inning, the Colts already holding two outs, and the tension on the field continued to rise as much of the complex had begun to watch the exciting end to this first round game. Mady Vaughn was up to bat, with the count at 2-2. She hits a bomb to deep center, and it drops behind the wall, blasting a two-run home run which gave Erie the lead at 14-13.
Erie fans jumped and cheered, but then stood and paced nervously as the team moved on to the bottom of the seventh. The Tigers get two quick outs, but the Colts bring a player across home plate to tie the score at 14. After the third out of the inning, the already delayed game was now headed into extra innings.
The Colts intentionally walked Sackett, which brought Williams up to the plate, with the bases loaded, at the top of the 8th. Williams ripped a ball to right field, which padded the Erie lead and brought the score to 17-14 with the Tigers on top again. A score from Sackett was the last for the top of the eighth, and the Colts begin the bottom of the inning down 18-14. A quick three outs from the Tigers defense gave Erie the first round win they fought for.
By the end of the first game, the energy on the field, and in the entire Aurora complex, was electric, and there was a rush to switch from Field #1 to Field #3, where the first pitch would be thrown out at 4:30 p.m., two hours later than the scheduled 2:30 start.
The broadcast dropped from a 3-man crew to just two when Mr. Bird left for Johnstown for another Erie High School athletic event, Football vs. Roosevelt. After battling major internet issues at the softball fields, the video feed for game #2 was finally live, but audio and internet connectivity continued to be an issue throughout the first few innings. The crew settled with a separated broadcast, with the production happening almost in a completely different field than the game was on, but at last, the internet was working. By the end of the third inning, the crew was finally settled down, and the stream seemed to be working. At this point, the Tigers led the D’Evelyn Jaguars 5-2.
The sun began to set into the fifth inning, and the lights at Aurora Sports Park were warmed up. By the end of the fifth inning, D’Evelyn began to creep back in, the score sitting at 7-4 with the Tigers still in the lead. No score in the sixth inning brought Erie right where they wanted to be, in the lead headed into the final inning. The sun finally set on the complex, and the game, now much colder than before, was played under the lights at Aurora Sports Park.
The top of the lineup appeared again with sophomore Emma Osborne. A solid three-run double brought the Erie sitting comfortably over the Jaguars at 10-4. After a quick three outs from the Tiger defense, the day at Aurora Sports Park had finally come to a close, and Erie is now in place to face Holy Family tomorrow at 10:00 a.m.
The bus ride back was electric, with cheering, laughing, and of course, a lot of singing. “We’re just pumped,” says senior Kat Sackett, after getting off the bus at Erie High School, “it’s like every single emotion that you could feel, all at the same time.”
Coach Smith advised the players to rest their muscles, soak in an Epsom Salt bath, eat some food, and most importantly, get some sleep. Superstition crept in when another player announced, “But don’t wash your clothes!”
As laughter leads the players off the bus at Erie High, the players begin to head home. Each one hugging and wishing the others goodnight as they make their way off of school property. “This is the closest that a team has ever been. Every single player has a relationship with one another, so it’s this really special atmosphere.” says Sackett. The team’s strong chemistry will take the Tigers into day two of the Class 4A State Championship Tournament.
Erie will face Holy Family tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. at Aurora Sports Park. A victory in that game would bring them to the championship match, facing the winner of the matchup between #1 seed Golden and #5 seed Silver Creek.