Legend softball beats Columbine to win Class 5A state title

AURORA — By the top of the fifth inning Saturday afternoon at Aurora Sports Park, the Legend High School softball team knew that despite threatening with no results,  it would be all right. After all, the Titans had been in this spot on more than one occasion.

Its offense came together in a hurry. The Titans’ offense erupted with three home runs, including two 2-run shots. They would tack on two more runs in the sixth inning in an 8-0 shutout of Columbine. It was Legend’s third Class 5A state title in the past five seasons and first since they repeated in 2017 and 2018. Kaylyn English led the home run parade, while Afton Armijo and Emma Harrington also joined in.

“Collectively, we all came together around the fifth inning,” Harrington said.  “It was nice that we did it again and it felt normal and natural. We finally see what the pitcher can do and have been through the lineup and we’re more confident.”

The Titans pitching ace, junior Cameron Ponich, was masterful. She went all seven innings, struck out 12, issued no walks, and gave up four hits.

“I wanted to throw a majority of east and west pitches, and my catcher knows me so well,” Ponich said. “She called a great game and we read each other’s mind sometimes. I felt strong .”

While Ponich was sharp, Columbine junior Araya Ogden pitched well until the fifth. She had a stellar semifinal game with six strikeouts and started strong in the championship game, as she struck her way out of two jams with runners in scoring position in the first four innings.

“Araya, all the way down to the last pitch, Araya was amazing,” said Rebels coach Jim Santaniello. “In the fifth inning, we ran into some really good hitters and it was a case where we ran into a buzzsaw.”

In the bottom of the sixth, Columbine had its best chance to score. They started off with three singles in their first four batters, but Ponich collected herself and struck out the final two batters, and got a rousing ovation from the crowd.

While they came out on the wrong end of the score, senior captain Emma Todd knows that the Rebels are set up well for the future, even if they were unable to finish off a remarkable 18-game winning streak.

“There’s only two teams left and we’re proud to be one of the last two,” Todd said. “Our whole mentality this year was ‘climbing the mountain’, and after our run, I’m very proud of the work we put into the season. … The way Araya pitched was incredible and mentally, she’s the toughest pitcher I know in the state of Colorado. I know she’ll respond in a big way next season.”

In the semifinal, Ogden’s mentality came through after the Rebels topped defending champion Fossil Ridge and Ogden Arkansas-bound Nikki McGaffin, while Legend topped Horizon 7-3.

“Between ourselves, Fossil Ridge and Legend, we all play at a really high level,” Santaniello said, referencing three of the last four state champions making the final four. “The expectation for Columbine is to come back with a title next year.”

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