It’s that time of year again folks, its time for the State Softball Championships up in Aurora this weekend. The Arkansas Valley will be well represented, both La Junta and Rocky Ford will be up competing yet again. There’s a good and a bad side to this. The good side is that both teams are up there and want to make an impression on the top teams in the state. The bad side is that only one of them will make the State Championship, if both reach the state semi’s that is. Reasoning behind that is they are on the same side of the bracket and could meet up in the state semi’s.
La Junta has a rough road to the state semi’s ahead of them. They’d have to go though two top-8 teams to reach it. If anyone can do that it’s the Tigers. Back in 2014 La Junta reached the peak of 3A softball, I mean back then they were the #3 seed but if they did it once they surely could do it again right? Seven of the girls on this years roster were they when the Lady Tigers defeated Strasburg for the 3A State crown. LJ only has one senior on the squad this year, that being middle infielder Erika Fernandez.
A deep run by the Tigers this year will surely set them up for great success next year. When it comes to October softball no one has been better than La Junta in the past. A team full of underclassmen will surely help LJ next season. Six girls on the roster are either sophomore’s or freshmen. Now back to how tough a road La Junta is going to have in order to meet Rocky in the state semi’s. The Tigers are going to have to upset the #6 seeded Valley Vikings and will have to come out strong and upset the #3 seeded , whom the Tigers lost 12-10 to at the Eaton Tournament.
As a freshmen, getting a great amount of playing time, and entering your first state tournament has to give you a lot of nerves. To enter a huge tournament with no prior experience has to play a factor in the mind of a young girl. The Tigers enter the weekend with two freshmen on their roster, shortstop/catcher Sarah Noll and first base/pitcher Robyn Wallace. We actually had the chance to interview Robyn and ask what this means to her, and what she expects to get out of the experience and use it to improve next year.
Q: Any nerves heading into the weekend?
A: “I think we all at eat least a little nervous but who isn’t going into the state tournament.”
Q: You guys will be the underdog the entire tournament, does that add any extra motivation to you guys?
A: “I think we are going to go out and play our best no matter where we are, we want to go out and play like we know we can.”
Q: You’ve never been a player in a high school state championship tournament, how does it make you feel to be apart of one as a freshmen?
A: “I love the girls I play with and they made the journey fun, no matter the outcome I am happy I got to spend these few months with these girls and they made me feel welcomed coming from a new school and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Q: You go to school in Swink, where everyone seems to go play softball for Rocky Ford. Why did you choose La Junta over Rocky?
A: “I chose La Junta because I grew up playing with the girls from here. I played La Junta All-Stars when I was 10 and I met a lot of people. I knew a lot of them from around, and I met some from other teams, like the Ark Valley Bandits and All-Star teams.”
Q: What’s one thing you want to take away from this tournament?
A: “Obviously a state title but if not I want to make it memorable and spend time with our senior Erika before she leaves.
Q: Any words for the fans from La Junta?
A: “Thanks for the support and encouragement throughout the season through everything. And thanks to the parents for everything they have done they’ve done a lot and made the season memorable and great.”
Rocky Ford quite possibly has the easiest road to the state semi’s, quite possibly the state championship. That is if you don’t want to count Strasburg’s road. The highest seeded team the Meloneers will have to face is the #7 seeded The Academy Wildcats. The Wildcats and the Meloneers will meet in the quarterfinals. Rocky Ford defeated The Academy rather easily 10-5 back in September. Only thing was that was a whole month ago, a lot has changed since then. Rocky can’t over look any of their opponents.
When it comes to the postseason in any high school sport, rankings and numbers mean absolutely nothing. Any team can be beat on any given day, not saying the Meloneers are going to lose but there are teams out there looking to be the ones to end their season. Here are some “numbers” on the Lady Meloneers heading into the state tourney: Rocky Ford has not lost a game since August 27th, that’s nearly two months without a loss. The Meloneers are on a 16-game winning streak. Based off their seed you can guess this next number, the Meloneers come in as the #2 team in Class 3A.
This year’s group of seniors for Rocky Ford have been to three state tournaments, out of the 4 years they have been in school. Before this state tournament, the Meloneers have never came in seeded higher than 4th. That was last year, the Meloneers received a 1st-round bye, but ended up losing to Brush in the quarterfinals 11-10. That loss has to be in the minds of all the seniors as they get ready for their last go at it. We had the opportunity to interview one of those seniors, middle infielder/catcher Whitney Nelson.
Q: You’ve been here before, but what does it mean to be here as a Senior, and to do this one last time?
A: “Just the fact that it’s my last year playing here one last time with a group of girls, I wouldn’t trade for the world.”
Q: Being the #2 team in the state in 3A, what does that mean to you?
A: “It means that all of the hard work that we have put in over the years is paying off.”
Q: You went to state in basketball in March and now softball (again), if you had to choose one which would you rather win a state title in?
A: “Softball, I love both the sports but if I had to choose it would be softball.”
Q: Any words for the fans from Rocky Ford?
A: “I just wanted to thank all of the fans for all the support and everything they have done for us. We are all very grateful and lucky to have you all out there.”