No. 1 Columbine softball begins 5A state title defense

LITTLETON — The last time Columbine’s softball team was on the diamond the Rebels were celebrating the program’s first state championship.

A 7-1 victory over Fossil Ridge on Oct. 26 at Aurora Sports Park ended a historic season for Columbine’s softball team that concluded with the Rebels hoisting the Class 5A state trophy.

Columbine junior Emma Todd lays off of a pitch during the Rebels' home opener Wednesday. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

Columbine, No. 1 in the CHSAANow.com Class 5A preseason rankings, returned to the field to kickoff its 2020 campaign Wednesday afternoon at Dave Sanders Memorial Field.

“That’s the best part of it,” Columbine coach Jim Santaniello said about being back on the field. “These girls and coaches have the opportunity to be out here. It’s so refreshing and awesome to be out here.”

The Rebels made the return to the field even sweeter with a come-from-behind 8-6 victory against Douglas County. The Huskies led 3-0 after a solo home run by Emerson Williams in the second inning and a two-run shot by Genevieve Bower in the third inning.

However, a three-run home run by Columbine junior Emma Todd in the bottom of the third inning tied things up a 3-3. A three-run fifth inning by the Rebels gave Columbine it’s first lead of the game. Junior Izzy Rodriguez started a two-out rally with a solo home run to put the Rebels up 6-5.

“I just wanted to keep my head as clear as possible,” Rodriguez said of her at-bat in the fifth inning that eventually flew over the wall in left field. “Just try to help out the team and do the best I can.”

Senior Nevaeh Ogden and junior Shay Cummings scored later in the inning thanks to a pair of errors and four walks issued by Douglas County to extend the lead to 8-5.

Douglas County junior Karlie Walters throws to first base during the season opener against Columbine on Wednesday. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

“Izzy’s home run really gave us the momentum,” Santaniello said. “Our girls really got a lot of energy from that home run. I think that put a little pressure on Douglas County. That was a clutch hit.”

Douglas County freshman Jenna Madison would belt a solo home run in the sixth inning, but that was as close as the Huskies would get. Columbine sophomore pitcher Araya Ogden was able to work out of a jam in the seventh inning and strike out Alyssa Gutierrez to end the game.

“It’s amazing,” Rodriguez said after the win to start the season that will be shortened due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s something that bring us back to reality and something that is normal for us.”

The Rebels will look different this season.

The graduation of starting catcher Ally Distler — led the team with a dozen home runs and 40 RBIs in 2019 — leaves a big hole. Also, the plan was to have three-year starting pitcher and leadoff batter Korbe Otis back for her senior year before she heads to play at the University of Louisville. However, a hand injury will prevent last year’s 5A Jeffco MVP and 5A Player of the Year from playing this season for the Rebels.

Columbine sophomore Araya Ogden takes over the pitching duties with Class 5A Player of the Year Korbe Otis out this season with a hand injury. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

“This team is going to have to be a lot more active. They are going to have to be much more resilient,” Santaniello said. “It’s really unfortunate that Korbe suffered that hand injury, but we just have to keep moving forward.”

Otis had a 24-2 record with a 0.91 ERA and 315 strikeouts last season.

“I thought Korbe would be back, but she had that finger injury,” said Ogden, who did get a few appearances in the circle for the Rebels last year as a freshman. “It was my time to step up, be a good pitcher and help my team out.”

The sophomore gave up a dozen hits against the Huskies, but was able to work out of a bases-loaded situation in the sixth inning and a dicey seventh inning where she hit a pair of batters and gave up a walk.

“The game plan was to have her (Araya Ogden) take over this program when she was a junior. We had to fast-forward that,” Santaniello said. “The great thing with her is when she as adversity she has even keeled. She just keeps plugging away. She is extremely tough mentally.”

Columbine gets a big test against No. 2 Rock Canyon at 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 22, back to Dave Sanders Memorial Field. The Jaguars handed one of the Rebels’ two losses last season.

Columbine junior Izzy Rodriguez (23) had a key solo home run in the fifth inning to help lead the way to the Rebels' 8-6 victory over Douglas County on Wednesday at Dave Sanders Memorial Field.