AURORA — Champions find a way.
Saturday, the Holy Family Tigers found a way, and rode it to its second state title in three years.
Buoyed by a first-inning grand slam from junior catcher Abby Edwards, Holy Family withstood a pesky Mead squad to defeat the Mavericks 9-6 in the Class 4A state softball championship.
"They have courage, respect, grit, and they work hard, every single one of them," said Moriah Nguyen, a first-year head coach for Holy Family who also served as an assistant on the Tigers' 2018 title team. "They've work their tail off all year long, and no one deserves it more than them."
The fact that Holy Family was in position to win this title is amazing in of itself.
In the semifinals against D'Evelyn early Saturday, the Tigers trailed as much as 6-1, looking listless as D'Evelyn seemed destined for a title game appearance.
Heading into the top of the 7th inning, trailing the Jaguars 6-5, the Tigers did what championship teams do — never say die.
Holy Family threw down a remarkable 7-spot on D'Evelyn in the 7th inning, which featured a pair of three-run home runs from senior Jenna Pfenning and junior Annika Manzanarez, enabling the Tigers to come away with a stunning 12-7 win to boost itself into the title game. At the same time, it allowed the Tigers to exorcize the demons from a semifinal loss to eventual state champion Erie in 2019.
"Every single one of these girls have the grit," Nguyen said of the team's comeback. "They fight, scratch, and do whatever they can to score runs."
That momentum carried over to the championship game, as the Tigers started things off by promptly loading the bases. Junior Abby Edwards — a starter on the 2018 championship team — drove a bomb to left centerfield to give the Tigers an early 4-0 lead, never relinquishing it.
"I saw an inside pitch, and I was so excited that they threw something inside to me," Edwards said. "When I saw the umpire's hand go in their air, I just jumped up in the air. It was so exciting to do that for my team."
While Mead threatened, turning in two home runs as it got as close as 6-5 in the fourth inning, scratched across some insurance runs to seal it. Among those included an inside-the-park home run by Edwards in the 6th inning, which served as a coronation of sorts as Holy Family held on for the state crown.
Nguyen, an assistant for the 2018 championship who was in her first season as head coach, saw up close the senior class' transformation from freshmen to two-time state champion. It's a special group, Nguyen said.
"It's amazing, seeing this group of freshmen since they were seniors, and what an experience and ride it was with these girls," Nguyen said. "My heart is huge right now."