LITTLETON — The sprint toward the Class 5A Jeffco League softball title officially got underway late Friday afternoon at Chatfield High School.
Chatfield — No. 4 in the 5A CHSAANow.com rankings, but coming off a tough 8-7 loss Wednesday to D’Evelyn — hosted Ralston Valley to being conference play in a league that featured three ranked teams.
Senior Courtney Bidwell sparked the Chargers early with a solo home run in the first inning and senior pitcher Izzy DiNapoli did her share pitching a 3-hit shutout of the Mustangs.
“The loss to D’Evelyn kind of showed us the power we needed more on the offensive end,” Bidwell said after an impressive 4-0 victory. “When I came up that first at-bat I knew we needed to rally early in the game. It really started the game off well.”
Sophomore Avery Rohlman’s flare to left field dropped to score the second run in the bottom of the first inning for Chatfield (7-2 record, 1-0 in league). DiNapoli and sophomore Brooklyn Levin both had RBI hits in the bottom of the sixth inning to extend the lead to 4-0.
DiNapoli was 3-for-3 at the plate with a pair of doubles to go along with her 11 strikeouts in the circle for the Chargers.
“The seniors had never beat Ralston Valley before. We really wanted to,” said DiNapoli, who also admitted she had been struggling at the plate before the break-out game to open conference play. “After we lost Wednesday we really focused on winning going into league.”
With no regional tournaments to qualify for the 5A state tournament during the shortened and changed season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 16-team state field will be determined differently this year. The league champion in each 5A conference will earn a bid and the remainder of the field will be determined by RPI rankings.
The change this season makes league play in deep leagues like Jeffco even more important.
“There is a lot more pressure without regionals,” Bidwell said. “Winning league is our No. 1 goal right now.”
Chatfield looked like the front-runner and favorite to win the conference title after the strong performance against Ralston Valley (3-4, 0-1).
“We had a great practice yesterday,” Chatfield coach Jen Lazzeri said. “They realized yesterday that we get to come out here and play sports. A lot of other people don’t. We have to come out, enjoy it and have fun.”
Lazzeri was impressed how her team responded to a number of defensive line-up changes with starting catcher Kailey Horton still out with a concussion. The bounce-back game from DiNapoli also proved how tough the Chargers are to beat when their ace pitcher is on.
“I think she (DiNapoli) took the D’Evelyn game pretty personally,” Lazzeri said of the DiNapoli giving up eight runs on 10 hits against the Jaguars. “When she is in a groove it’s a tremendous confidence booster for us.”
The win also broke a 2-game winning streak for Ralston Valley. The Mustangs had outscored their last two opponents (Evergreen and Golden) 29-2. Senior Laney Clark was one of the few bright spots for Ralston Valley. Clark went 2-for-3 from the plate for the Mustangs.
“Ralston Valley is a great team. This is a big step for us,” Lazzeri said. “Our girls need to not have their eyes on the prize. Let’s enjoy every day and the time we are together.”