PUEBLO — With just a few days of official practice to go on, Pueblo Centennial softball coach Erica Ortiz liked what she safrom her Bulldogs in Thursday's season opener.
Timely hits, consistent pitching and steady defense led Centennial to a 7-0 win over Vista Ridge, beginning a season that Ortiz hopes will end with her experienced squad claiming a South-Central League championship.
"This is the team I've had for three years now," Ortiz said. "Thy were all freshmen and sophomores and now they're juniors and seniors. Everybody is a leader on this team and it feels good to have those upperclassmen."
The fields at the Runyon complex in Pueblo were lit up across the board as various youth baseball games scramble to finish a shortened summer season. But it was the field furthest to the east that marked the first sanctioned high school athletic competition in Pueblo since the end of the spring season.
And for the first couple of innings, it felt like each team was trying to settle in and get over the nerves of finally getting the chance to take the field with their friends and represent their schools and communities.
"I was a little nervous," Centennial pitcher Lilly Espinoza said. "I knew we had strong infield and outfield so I started to get a little confident as the game went on."
With good reason. Espinoza tossed a complete game shutout in just 61 pitches, allowing just five hits. She got her run support in the bottom of the third when back to back triples from Kieya Belmont and Yzavel Barela resulted in Belomt crossing home for the first run of the game and the season for the Bulldogs (1-0 overall).
Barela would later score on a ground ball to short from Espinoza. In all, Barela went 3-for-4 with a double and a triple while scoring three runs. The Wolves (0-1) certainly had their chances. Alisha Salazar went 1-for-3 with a triple but reached base twice. Tatjana Harris also ripped a triple while pitching all six innings. She surrendered just two earned runs, but overall the night belonged to the Bulldogs.
"It felt really good, honestly," Barela said. "I haven't been so good myself lately, but it felt really good to bring all these girls together."
It's a great confidence builder when looking around the league landscape. Three teams from the league qualified for the Class 4A softball tournament a year ago.
Two of those teams in Pueblo South and Pueblo County cracked the preseason softball rankings and while the Bulldogs are currently outside of the top 10, they were receiving votes along with rival Pueblo Central. But they don't want to just end up in the same conversation as the other teams in Pueblo, they want to stand apart from everyone and get their chance to shine at the state tournament.
"That's the expectation," Ortiz said. "We've been right on that bubble for regionals the last two years. We had younger kids and we graduated zero kids last year. The league graduated quite a few dominant players. This is the year that I feel confident, especially if we play like that."