3A state softball: Rayburn shines as Strasburg tops Brush for fourth title

(Dan Mohrmann/CHSAANow.com)

AURORA — Alexis Rayburn has never pitched a more difficult inning than the seventh of her afternoon game on Saturday.

Strasburg was up by eight, but she was trying to close out the school's fourth state championship. With two outs, the batter at the plate - and opposing pitcher - Hailey Unrein popped a ball up foul. She now had two strikes on her and Rayburn's teammates gathered to give her some final words of encouragement.

"Everybody was telling me that they believed in me and they loved me no matter what," Rayburn said.

They had every right to. She struck out Unrein. The Indians won 10-2 and came away with their fourth Class 3A softball title in six years. Not a bad reward after battling through an inning where she retired the side, striking out two in the process.

"I had to stay composed in that last inning," she said. "It was probably the hardest inning I've ever had to pitch."

Her performance on Saturday was nothing short of championship worthy. She struck out nine hitters while surrendering just five hits and walking one. Both runs she gave up were earned.

The second wasn't as damaging because the Indians were up nine runs. The first, however wasn't ideal. Brooklyn Cox, the Beetdiggers' leadoff hitter, was able to get around and score to get Brush a 1-0 lead in the first inning.

Strasburg had only managed to get two runners on base in the first three innings. But with one out in the fourth, Dakota Stotyn blasted a home run to left field that wasn't going to be affected by the wind that was blowing directly in.

"I thought about hitting that on the ground and not playing the wind," Stotyn said. "I just wanted a base hit. But I'll take that any day."

And that was the offensive spark that the Indians needed. They took the lead later in the inning when Ashlyn Richardson scored on a fielding error.

(Dan Mohrmann/CHSAANow.com)

And then they caught fire in the sixth. Rayburn led the inning off with a double and was driven home on a single from Ashland Baca. That was the first of seven runs the Indians scored in the inning.

"When I started hitting the ball and we collectively as a team started hitting the ball, and made solid contact and put pressure on the defense, I knew we had it," Rayburn said.

Strasburg last won a state softball title in 2015 with a 7-5 win over Eaton. The Indians beat the Reds in the semifinal on Saturday to advance to the title game.

Also in that game, the Indians had to come from behind to get the win. It was a group of girls that wasn't going to quit when faced with adversity.

"They trust each other," coach Michelle Woodard said. "They have heart and they don't give up. They haven't all year."

The closeness of the team is something that stood out to Woodard. Her seniors were sophomores the last time the Indians won the 3A title and the bond that they created in between championship wins is something that made this season stand out.

"It's something that a lot of people didn't expect of us this season," Woodard said. "I think we were overlooked a bit so they took that to heart."