Valor Christian rallies in seventh inning to win 4A softball title

AURORA — Valor Christian opened its doors in 2007. In 2013, the Eagles made the Class 4A playoffs in softball for the first time, but lost 17-2 to Mountain View. This season, they capped off a dominant campaign with the 4A state championship after a three-run seventh inning rally boosted the Eagles to a 7-4 win over Frederick in the finals.

The state title was the first in Valor Christian history in the sport.

Throughout the fall, Valor rode freshman phenom Alexandria Kilponen, a shutdown pitcher with dominant stuff. Kilponen entered the day number one in 4A in earned run average by a large margin (0.36). In the title game, Kilponen impressed early with four strikeouts in the first two innings and a shutout through three.

“Allie Kilponen is just a flat-out stud,” Valor Christian Coach Dave Atencio said. “She just turned 14 back in the spring and she was something special when she came in. She’s just unreal. The kid can flat-out throw and I’m so glad I have her for three more years.”

Valor’s offense also took advantage of Frederick’s miscues early as the Warriors committed three errors and left six runners on base after four innings.

But the Warriors, who beat defending champion Wheat Ridge 8-6 in the semis, showed they were 24-0 headed into the final game for a reason. A two-run blast from one of their best hitters, Paris Woods, to cut the deficit to 4-2 with no outs in the bottom of the fifth. Then, Kilponen and company shut the door on further damage in the inning with a fly out, a strikeout, and a diving grab by second baseman Abigail Zuschlag.

Frederick wasn’t done, though. In the bottom of the sixth, freshman catcher Lorenna Heath cranked a two-out clutch double. She advanced on the throw. Next batter, shortstop Alex Dufour had an RBI single to tie the game up. Kendra Hanneman then hit an infield single, but Dufour was thrown out at the plate.

The pressure was back on Valor Christian. And the Eagles delivered.

Valor Christian Frederick softball

More photos. (Matt Mathewes/MVPSportsPics.com)

After two groundouts to start the top of the seventh, Zuschlag started the rally with a single. Then, Shelby Mann singled. Then, Makenna Roth singled in a run and Valor took the lead, 5-4. A two-run RBI triple by Alexandra Kinder broke the game open at 7-4.

Kinder, who's been playing on a torn calf, delivered at the plate Saturday.

“All season I’ve been struggling,” Kinder said. “My calf is torn, so I shouldn’t even be playing. I’ve been struggling hitting beyond belief, but my coaches believed in me. They said, push through it. This is it, this is your last chance. I came up big.

“Two outs, all the pressure’s on you,” Kinder added. “You have to come up big for your team and that happened today.”

“She had a huge day,” Atencio said of Kinder. “First game (in the semifinals), she hit a home run. She came up big this game and she made some great plays at third base. Starting the season, she wasn’t even a third baseman. She was a first baseman by trade, but I needed a third baseman and she turned into a quality player.”

Kilponen did the rest in the bottom of the seventh, forcing a groundout, then giving up a single, before a groundout and a fly out gave Valor the 4A crown.

“I don’t have words for it,” Kinder said of winning the title. “It’s ridiculous.”

The Eagles, who only have 12 players on their roster, were challenged by Atencio before the season to overcome their lack of depth. They displayed their grit Saturday.

“This is my second championship and it never gets old,” said Atencio, who also won the 5A title in 2001 as the Dakota Ridge coach. “I glorify these girls. We only had 12 kids on the entire team. We called ourselves the dirty dozen and they never, never stopped playing. 24-1 and we were just blessed that they gave us that season.

“Everyone was like, 'You can’t get that far with only 12 players,'” Kinder added.

“That’s all we’ve got this year,” Kilponen said of the small roster. “It’s a blessing to have these girls as my dirty dozen.”

Valor Christian’s softball program — which took down traditional powerhouse Erie, 11-time champions in the sport, in the semifinals 3-1 — is new to the scene as a 4A power.

“There was a reason I went to Valor,” Atencio said. “After 17 years at Dakota, I made the decision to go there two years ago. There was a reason for it. Build another program, build a championship quality program and we did it in two years.”