AURORA -- Wheat Ridge senior Jessica Salbato couldn’t wait to get her hands on the Class 4A state softball trophy.
“I’ve always wanted a state ring, a state championship with me on the mound,” Salbato said after she tossed a complete-game, two-hit shutout against Erie on Sunday afternoon in the 4A championship game at Aurora Sports Park.
While Salbato handcuffed the Tigers’ bats, the top-seeded Farmers (24-1) used the one-two offensive punch of sophomore Ann Marie Torres and junior Analece Apodaca. The pair drove in three of Wheat Ridge’s four runs in the 4-0 victory.
“We wanted to do everything in our power to get it (state title) for Jessica,” Torres said. “She deserves this so much.”
Torres led off the bottom of the first inning with a triple off Erie freshman pitcher Rio Sanchez. Apodaca followed with a double to drive in the only run Wheat Ridge really needed.
“It was good. We just wanted to get that one run early,” Apodaca said.
Wheat Ridge pushed across two more runs in the bottom of the fourth inning to take a 3-0 lead. Torres ripped a ground rule double down the left field line two drive in a pair. She finished 3-for-4 from the plate in the title game, just a home run short of hitting for the cycle.
“The power of those two is unbelievable,” Wheat Ridge coach Marty Stricklett said of Torres and Apodaca.
The Farmers tacked on their final run with an RBI single by junior Mary Sand in the bottom of the fifth inning. Wheat Ridge’s offense cranked out 11 hits, but Salbato’s performance on the mound couldn’t be overshadowed.
“Jess threw a gem,” Stricklett said. “We had timely hitting too, but I’ve got to give it to Jessica. To two-hit Erie is a big accomplishment.”
Sanchez broke up Salbato’s no-hit bid with a single in the top of the fifth inning. Junior Katie Kovets had the other hit for the Tigers. She singled in the top of the seventh.
It was the first shutout loss Erie (21-4-1) had suffered all season. It was the third loss in a championship game for the Tigers. Erie has an 11-3 record in title games.
“Everybody gives us their best game and we know that,” Erie coach Bob Bledsoe said. “(Wheat Ridge) was clearly the better team today.”
Bledsoe did say it was fun to finally face the Farmers in a championship game. Erie claimed its first 10 state titles at the 3A level before moving up to 4A in 2010. The Tigers defeated the Farmers 12-2 in the semifinals in their inaugural season in 4A on the way to a state title.
“Bob is one of those guys I tip my cap to,” Stricklett said of Bledsoe. “He has run a great, successful program. In my opinion he is the best coach in the state of Colorado. It was an honor to play him and his team today.”
Wheat Ridge claimed its sixth state title since 2002 with the victory. The Farmers won back-to-back 5A state titles in 2002 and 2003 under former coach Eric Larson. Wheat Ridge has now won four 4A state titles over the past six years under the tenure of Stricklett.