No. 4 Columbine softball geared up to defend 5A Jeffco crown

Teammates greet junior Korbe Otis after her two-run home run against Castle View last week during the Dave Sanders Memorial Tournament at Aurora Sports Park. Columbine won the tournament, going 5-0 and taking a 2-1 victory over Class 4A's top-ranked Holy Family in the championship game. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

LITTLETON — Columbine softball isn’t planning on waiting two decades again to win its next Class 5A Jeffco League title.

The Rebels won their first conference title since 1998 last season with an 8-0 record through the always competitive 5A Jeffco gauntlet. The objective in 2019 is clear … win eight conference games from Sept. 19 through Oct. 10 to repeat as league champs.

“We are absolutely excited and ready for the competition,” Columbine junior Korbe Otis said leading up to the Rebels’ conference opener Thursday afternoon at rival Dakota Ridge.

In a little over three weeks, the Rebels (14-1 record) close out conference play at home against rival Chatfield (16-0, 1-0 in league). While there is a lot of traffic to maneuver around to have that game be a winner-take-all dream match-up for the two rival schools, it sure it a possibility.

Columbine junior Korbe Otis is closing in on 40 career pitching victories as Class 5A Jeffco League play begins for the Rebels. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

The Chargers are currently ranked No. 1 in the CHSAANow.com 5A softball poll, while the Rebels hold down the No. 4 spot.

“We really love and respect Chatfield. They are having a heck of a season,” Columbine coach Jim Santaniello said. “We want that pressure. We want those games when everyone is there and winning those types of games is what it’s all about.”

It’s no secret that it all starts with Otis in the pitching circle for Columbine. The ace has already verbally committed to the University of Louisville. Otis is closing in on 40 career victories on the mound for the Rebels and she is only a junior.

“Sometimes I feel bad,” Columbine senior catcher Ally Distler said thinking of batters having to face Otis. “Especially when their coach is telling them what to watch for and we go with something completely different. It is so fun watching her work and hit her spots.”

Otis already has 149 strikeouts having pitched 80 innings this season. She is sporting a 0.70 ERA with her 11-1 record. Her lone loss came Tuesday in a 3-0 shutout loss to No. 2 Rock Canyon.

“She (Otis) is an awesome weapon,” Santaniello said of Otis. “It really makes our (coaches) job easy. She is the most prepared player I’ve ever coached. We know if we can get a couple of runs we’ll be really tough to beat.”

Columbine's Riley Marshall connects with the ball during the Dave Sanders Memorial Tournament last week at Aurora Sports Park. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

While the cast is much the same from the Rebels’ 20-win team last year that eventually had their season come to an end in the 5A state quarterfinals with a narrow one-run loss to Legend, Santaniello believes this team is even better.

“It’s one heck of a group of girls,” Santaniello said of the Rebels’ strong start that included winning the Dave Sanders Memorial Tournament last weekend. “The first two years we had good teams, but with this team I think it’s something special. The girls are older and that experience has really upped their game.”

Santaniello has a ton of confidence in Distler and Otis. In fact, he allows the Rebels’ battery to call of their own pitches. No pitch calls come from Columbine’s dugout.

Columbine’s offense has been strong having scored double-digit runs in eight games so far. The Rebels have six players — Otis, Distler, Emma Todd, Callison Stern, Nevaeh Ogden and Shea Cummings — all hitting over .400 on the season.

“You just have to go up to the plate every time with the same mentality,” Otis said. “You have to get the job done for your team.”

It will be entertaining three weeks to see if Columbine can repeat as conference champs and set the Rebels up for a run at the program’s first state title.

“We are just focusing on getting our wins and focusing on Chatfield at the end of the season,” Distler said. “We are still taking it one game at a time. We are mainly worried about going to state.”

Columbine junior Korbe Otis helped lead the Rebels to their first Jeffco League title since 1998 last season. Columbine begins conference play today at rival Dakota Ridge. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)