AURORA — The third time proved to be the charm for the University softball team.
The top-seeded Bulldogs, who scored three runs in the third inning and three runs in the fifth inning, earned their first-ever Class 3A softball championship by beating Brush, 8-4, Saturday at Aurora Sports Park.
In the process, University avenged its only two losses of the year, both to the Beetdiggers. Brush beat University, 14-13, on Sept. 21 and 19-4 on Oct. 8.
“Coach (Rocky Ford) told us before the game that it’s really hard to beat a team three times in a season, and we proved that today,” said junior shortstop Delaney Wieneke. “They knew us; we knew them. We knew it was going to be a tough game … it always is. We were excited to play them.”
Wieneke went 2-for-4 with four RBIs and two runs scored. She broke open a scoreless game with a two-run single in the bottom of the third inning and added a two-run home run in the bottom of the sixth inning to put the game out of reach.
“I’m not sure how to feel right now. It’s a lot of mixed emotions,” Wieneke admitted. “We were a family this whole season. So having this feeling of being a state champ is so awesome; it’s great.”
Said Ford: “(Delaney) is out of this world. She’s a whole different breed. Every time she’s up to bat you never know how far she’s going to hit the ball. She hits the ball a ton. That home run she hit probably went 250 (feet), no problem.”
Ashlynn Knapp added to the Bulldogs’ offensive explosion with a home run of her own in the bottom of the fifth inning that turned a 3-2 lead for University into a 6-2 advantage.
“Our coach wanted us to double our score,” Knapp explained. “Two outs, two runners on … I went up there thinking ‘base-hit.’ I wasn’t thinking long-ball or anything like that. But all of my techniques were right, and it ended up going over. Not expected, but very exciting!”
Knapp, a sophomore, played first base for the Bulldogs. Normally the team’s right fielder, Knapp filled in for senior Tayler Frank, who injured her leg on Friday.
“That was one of the hardest games I have ever played … the most pressure,” Knapp confessed. “I’m just glad my team had a ton of faith in me playing first base because I haven’t played there all season.”
Fittingly, Knapp made the final out of the game when she nabbed Alexis Corral’s grounder and stepped on the bag to help the Bulldogs make history.
“That last ground ball was probably one of the hardest I have ever fielded, knowing there was two outs in the top of the seventh,” Knapp recalled with a smile. “I just appreciate our team being like a family this weekend. This is the happiest I have ever seen this team.”
Sophomore pitcher Kayla Kingsley went the distance for University, which finished the season with a record of 26-2. Kingsley struck out four and walked just one batter.
“It feels so amazing! I am so happy!” she revealed. “We were just confident going into this game, and that helped a lot. I had a few moments where I was shaky and hesitant, but I worked to ignore it and move on.
“This team is so supportive and so helpful, and they always keep me up,” Kingsley added. “It helps so much … to have a nice team that’s always there for you.”
The victory marked the 15th girls team championship for University and the first since the Bulldogs won a spirit title last year. Overall, it is the 22nd state title for the Bulldogs.
Catcher Grace Georgiou led the way for the Beetdiggers, who finished the season with a record of 22-6.
Georgiou went 2-for-3 with three RBIs. She belted a two-run home run in the top of the fourth inning and added an RBI single in the top of the sixth to keep Brush in the game.
The Beetdiggers, the No. 3 seed, advanced to the championship game by beating Sterling in the semifinals, 11-9, earlier Saturday.
The Bulldogs earned their shot at redemption by beating two-time defending state champion Strasburg in the semifinals (13-2 in five innings).
“Positive thinking … helped us a lot,” Wieneke said. “We never take Strasburg lightly, no matter what. We played hard that game; that one felt good, but this one is a different kind of feeling.
“It’s absolutely sweeter beating Brush.”
“The girls worked hard all season long,” Ford added. They showed up right away, from our pitching to our defense to our home runs. It feels great.”