Lady Spartans are regional champions once again

Photo by Tiffany Rafferty – Berthoud High School softball team after winning the regional championship Saturday afternoon in Arvada. The Lady Spartans won both games in blow-away fashion, besting Pueblo Central 11-1 and Mead 11-0 to punch their ticket to the state tourney this weekend in Aurora.

By Dan Karpiel

The Surveyor

There are many ways a team can win a championship. The Berthoud High School (BHS) softball team opted to win theirs with a big ‘ole exclamation point.

Berthoud won the regional championship on Saturday afternoon at the Youth Memorial Sports Complex in Arvada in resounding fashion, besting Pueblo Central 11-1 in the opening game before dispatching Mead by an 11-zip final. The two wins give Berthoud not only the regional championship but also provide the Lady Spartans a favorable draw at the upcoming state tournament, where they will enter as a top-eight seed.

“The attitude, the collective energy, it went one to 16, you could feel it, it was palpable; this was a team victory,” Berthoud Head Coach Buddy Kouns said after his Lady Spartans claimed their second regional title in his four seasons leading the squad.

“It’s such a confidence boost, our whole team today was very up-beat and we knew it was going to be ours; we had a mindset to be regional champs and anything less was not going to be good enough. I think that gives us a lot of confidence going to state, knowing that we can run over teams like this,” added senior pitcher Sarah Jorissen, who was nothing short of phenomenal in the two-game set.

Jorissen had two hits, both homeruns, drove in four and scored in all four of her plate appearances, the last of which sealed the mercy-rule-shortened 11-1 affair with Pueblo Central in the opening game of the tournament. Senior catcher Mandi Laib also had three base hits while Ashlynn Balliet, Addi Spears and Ellie Yuska each added two more knocks in a game where Berthoud scored two runs in the first, three in the second and four in the third, never leaving much doubt as to which team was going to play for the regional title.

Central was able to scratch out a run in the top of the third inning; Pricilla Gallegos doubled, advanced on a wild pitch, and came home on a ground out to cut Berthoud’s lead to 5-1, but the No. 21 seed was never able to get any closer. A leadoff single in the fourth gave Central a small measure of hope, but Laib cut down Marisa Munoz as she attempted to steal second base for the final out of the frame.

Shining in a position which too often goes overlooked with a glance at the box score is nothing new for Laib, who has turned in a stellar senior campaign behind the plate. Asked after the game how she handles the multitude of responsibilities that come with playing catcher, Laib explained, “My catching coach has told me, you have to have five eyes, one on the batter, one on the umpire, one on the runners, one on the pitcher and one on the ball, so you’re focusing on everything, and that’s something I’ve really embraced.”

Mead, a conference rival of Berthoud’s, took care of business on their side of the bracket, handing No. 5 seed and host team Conifer a 13-6 defeat to set up the all-Tri-Valley tilt that would crown the regional champion.

Balliet doubled to lead off the first inning and came home on a Spears double, giving the Lady Spartans a tenuous one-run lead in the first. Mead was unable to score in their half of the frame despite two Berthoud fielding errors as Jorissen struck out Dani Garcia with runners on first and second to end the Lady Mavericks’ nascent scoring threat.

Small plays made a big difference in the second inning. After walking the leadoff batter, Jorissen fielded a sharp ground ball and threw to Spears, who got the force-out at second. Spears fielded a second sharp grounder and completed the out with a toss to Stephanie Haberkon at second to make the second out of the frame. Haberkon ended the inning herself the next at bat, fielding yet another ground ball and getting the un-assisted third out at second base.

Jorissen made two more outstanding plays in the field, one in the third where she snagged a line drive and again in the fourth by fielding a hard-hit ground ball before tossing to Carley Rafferty at first to secure the out. Given her extraordinary skills both at the plate and inside the circle, Jorissen’s ability as a fielder often goes over-looked and was something Kouns made special mention of after the game.

“The kid is a warrior, she’s a warrior. We’re playing with eight fielders and most teams are playing with seven.” Kouns said. “In this Mead game, this was a tight game until we blew it open and she made two plays on balls that were hit hard right back at her, she just continues to make plays in big situations.”

Berthoud’s defense continued to shine in the third and fourth innings. With two outs and a runner on first, junior Jordan Schachterle made a perfect read on a hard-hit fly ball that had the look of a homerun off the bat. Berthoud’s centerfielder tracked the ball perfectly, making a falling catch into the outfield fence to secure the third and final out of the inning to preserve Berthoud’s one-run lead.

“I was playing in the middle, so I knew I had a ways back to go and I knew that it was going to drop right between (right fielder) Ellie (Yuska) and I, and I knew that one of us had to get there so I just got a lucky jump on it and I guessed the right way off the bat,” Schachterle said of the play. “I had to dive for it at the end because I knew I had to do everything I could to catch it. I wasn’t even paying attention to where the fence was because I knew I had to make that play, otherwise they were going to score some runs.”

Schachterle’s run-saving catch spurned Berthoud’s bats to life in the home half of the fourth. Singles from Laib and Sophie Supernor preceded a walk from Yuska to load the bases with one out. Schachterle came up big once again, dropping a fly-ball into shallow right field to score two runs. Balliet singled to drive home Rafferty, who reached on a fielder’s choice that scored J.C. Rodriguez, in as a courtesy runner for Laib. Singles from Balliet, Natalie Fischer and another from Laib in her second at-bat of the frame followed, and when all was said and done Berthoud had earned itself a commanding 7-0 lead. 

Rafferty hit a moon-shot homerun in the fifth, a ball that cleared the left field fence by at least 20 feet and also scored Yuska, who walked to lead off the inning. Spears would double four at-bats later, driving in Schachterle and Balliet to put Berthoud up 11-0 and end the game.

With the regional championship, Berthoud enters the 16-team state tournament as the No. 8 seed and will face #9, Pueblo West, in the opening round on Friday at 10 a.m. at the Aurora Sports Park.

Said Kouns of the upcoming state championships, “This year the pool is wide open. We believe we can make some noise down there.”

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