ARVADA — It isn’t easy to run the table in the Class 5A Jeffco softball conference.
The Dakota Ridge Eagles, No. 1 in this week’s CHSAANow.com 5A rankings, were flying high with a seven-game winning streaking coming into Saturday’s league contest against Ralston Valley. The Mustangs (10-7, 3-2 in league) were saddled with a three-game losing streak, but were able to buck the skid.
Ralston Valley knocked off the top-ranked Eagles with a 7-6 victory at home in eight innings. Senior Kat Schaefer crossed the plate for the game-winning run, scoring all the way from first base on a sacrifice bunt by sophomore Sydney Harsh in the bottom of the eighth inning.
“I saw third base was open and coach (Wendy Davies) was telling me to go,” Schaefer said about what she saw rounding second base as Dakota Ridge’s defenders charged to field the bunt. “Right when I saw the catcher not cover home I knew we won. It felt good.”
The throw to third base in attempt to get Schaefer out sailed into the Mustangs’ dugout to score the final run. It was the third error in the final three innings for the Eagles (13-3, 4-1).
“We knew this was going to be a tough game. Wendy always prepares her teams well from year-to-year,” Dakota Ridge coach Marv Van Lingen said. “I knew with a three-game skid that we would be fighting a team that is trying to break that skid.”
It was déjà vu for the Eagles. Ralston Valley took a 2-1 victory against Dakota Ridge in extra innings last season on the Mustangs’ home field.
Ralston Valley led for the majority of Saturday’s game. Sophomore Alexa Samuels led the way with an RBI sacrifice fly in the first inning to give the Mustangs an early lead. Samuels finished 3-for-3 from the plate with a pair of triples.
The Mustangs led 4-1 through five innings before Dakota Ridge rallied with a trio of runs in the top of the sixth inning to tie the game at 4-4. Sophomore Kacey Valerio came off the bench with a pinch-hit two-run single and her older sister, Dani Valerio, followed that up with an RBI single to get the Eagles right back into the game.
Ralston Valley regained the lead at 5-4 in the bottom half of the sixth when freshman Gianna Browdy scored from second base on a fielding error.
The top-ranked team responded again with a two-run top of the seventh inning to take a 6-5 lead. Down to their final strike, Dakota Ridge sophomore Melissa Mages looped in an RBI double to tie the game at 6-6. Junior McKenzie Wilhelm gave the Eagles their first lead of the game with an RBI single.
The Mustangs rallied in the bottom of the seventh with a leadoff triple by Samuels.
“She (Samuels) is definitely a clutch player,” Schaefer said.
Junior Maddy Smith drove in Samuels with an RBI single to send the game into extra innings. Ralston Valley managed seven hits and was opportunistic capitalizing on eight walks the Eagles issued.
Dani Valerio was left stranded at second base in the top of the eighth inning for Dakota Ridge. Ralston Valley jumped on the chance to put the game away after Schaefer led off the bottom of the eighth with a single.
“I think we all focused on playing as a team and didn’t focus on who we were playing,” Samuels said. “It was a good team win. It was fun.”
Ralston Valley junior Rylie Strong picked up the victory on the mound. She gave up nine hits in the complete-game victory. Dakota Ridge junior Megan Sansburn pitched the first two innings, but struggled with her command giving up four walks. Sophomore Carlye Levy took over in the circle for the Eagles in the third inning. Van Lingen put Sansburn back in at pitcher in the bottom of the eighth inning to face Harsh, who put down the perfect bunt on the game-winning play.
“We got the bunts down and got the hits when we needed them,” Davies said. “It was a whole team effort.”
Dakota Ridge can still take the conference title. The Eagles close out league with road games against Columbine (Tuesday) and Lakewood (Thursday) next week.
“In hindsight, this is probably going to be a good thing hopefully to get the girls refocused,” Van Lingen said. “It might have happened at the right time.”
Ralston Valley closes it regular season against Bear Creek (Tuesday) and Columbine (Thursday) next week before heading to the postseason.
“It’s really good for our confidence coming off those big losses,” Schaefer said. “We know Dakota is a great opponent. We came out strong and finished strong today.”