AURORA — Winning a state championship is always a tall mountain to climb. Legend’s softball team can attest to that after becoming the first team in school history to accomplish the feat last fall.
So as the Titans celebrated their second consecutive state softball championship Saturday afternoon at Aurora Sports Park after defeating Cherokee Trail 8-4 in the Class 5A title game, the players reflected on becoming the first 5A team to defend its trophy since Legacy won five in a row from 2007-11.
“I think defending it is sweeter. I’m a very competitive person,” said Legend senior Zoey LeCompte, who earned the victory. “It’s kind of like everyone wasn’t expecting us to, so we needed to do it just to show them what’s up, I guess.”
The Titans (21-9) entered the tournament as the No. 6 seed after enduring a rough start to the season that saw them lose nine of their first 12 games. But the team regrouped and finished the season on a 16-game winning streak, capped off by victories over Central of Grand Junction and top-seeded Cherokee Trail on Saturday.
“There were some dark days early on, and the target was on our back. But it wasn’t our team playing,” Legend coach Kristen Shirk said. “This was a totally different team than our first 12 games.”
After dispatching Central 8-3 in the semifinals Saturday morning, Legend fell behind the Cougars 1-0 in the first inning on an RBI single from Kelsey Bell. The Titans bounced back with two runs in the third inning — Liv Bradley tied the game up with a run-scoring single, and Cailey Oldemeyer put Legend up to stay with a sacrifice fly.
Lauren Griggs belted a two-run home run to right-center field in the top of the fourth inning, which seemed to give the Titans the lift they needed.
“I think it created a momentum that the entire team was able to, you could say, mooch off of,” Griggs said. “It created this whole new energy that drove us.”
Payton Lincavage made it 5-1 in the fifth with a base hit, and LeCompte followed with a two-run single to make it a 7-1 advantage.
The Cougars (26-3) put two runners on in three of the first five innings but were only able to push one run across. LeCompte escaped a jam in the fourth inning by getting a groundout and strikeout, and the Memphis-bound senior got a lineout in the fifth inning.
“Definitely trusting my teammates and knowing they can make the plays,” LeCompte said of the key to getting out of those jams. “They knew what to do, and I didn’t have to do it all by myself.”
Cherokee Trail made its most noise in the bottom of the sixth inning. With two runners on, Adreanna Lance doubled off the fence in right field, but the Cougars’ lead runner was thrown out at the plate. Flex player Hunter Gilbreath pinch hit and belted a three-run home to left field off Bella Mumford to make it a 7-4 game.
Legend had lost to the Cougars 13-12 in eight innings in August, so Shirk was well aware of Cherokee Trail’s ability to hammer the ball. The Cougars had also walked off Loveland 2-1 in the semifinals on a single and an error after allowing the tying run in the top of the seventh.
“We knew from facing them earlier you can never stop,” Shirk said. “You have to keep going, keep tacking the runs on.”
Legend added an insurance run on an error in the seventh inning, and Mumford tossed a 1-2-3 inning to set off the celebration.
“We knew we had what it took,” LeCompte said. “We were going to get it done.”
Bradley was 2-for-2 with an RBI and two runs scored for Legend, which will graduate five seniors. The program continues to establish itself as a force in the state, and going back-to-back only cements that status.
“I think we’ve definitely brought around softball at Legend, and I hope we’ve built a powerhouse,” Shirk said. “I hope it keeps going.”