Remember the notion that Class 5A softball would hold little drama this season because Legacy is seemingly predestined to win it all for the third straight time?
Well, the Lightning indeed might be en route to another crown, but the teams that will have an opportunity to overthrow Legacy’s reign are interesting – to say the least – after a wild weekend of districts. When the 16-team state tournament begins Friday at Aurora Sports Park, six of the teams participating were not among the top 16 seeds in districts (meaning six of the top 16 districts seeds are out).
Arvada West (No. 17 seed in districts), Highlands Ranch (19), Loveland (23), Chatfield (28), Lakewood (30) and Grandview (31) are in; Chaparral (3), Liberty (7), Cherokee Trail (12), Rampart (14), Pine Creek (15) and Fort Collins (16) are out.
"I think it’s surprising on paper," Highlands Ranch coach Jeff Markle said of his team's bolt to the Region 5 title. "We don’t win pretty all the time, but our kids find ways to win games."
While Chaparral’s exit is distinctive – the Wolverines entered the final week of the regular season 17-1 – plenty of the big guns remain. Start with Legacy, of course, then last year’s runner-up Ralston Valley and fellow Jefferson County League stalwarts Pomona and Green Mountain (Jeffco sends a classification-most six teams). And don’t forget about Grand Junction Central (20-1) and Eaglecrest (18-3).
"We believe we’re doing the little things correctly, which is obviously important this time of year," Eaglecrest coach Heather Nelsen said.
Of note, a Jeffco team has not won a title since 2003, but a team from the league has appeared in each of the five championship games during the drought.
Class 4A overview
The 4A districts held much truer to form with only Evergreen (23rd seed), Golden (25) and Palisade (29) crashing their way into the party. Eighth-seeded Castle View is out after a wild 13-10 loss to Golden in Region 2 action, while 10th-seeded Widefield and No. 13 Thomas Jefferson also were eliminated.
All of the preseason favorites validated that distinction during the regular season and remain the teams to beat this weekend. While defending champion Wheat Ridge is the top seed, the Farmers aren’t as heavy a favorite as Legacy in 5A. The Nos. 2-through-5 seeds – Windsor, D’Evelyn, Niwot and Mullen – all are squads with the potential to be hoisting the hardware late Saturday afternoon.
As in 5A, the Jeffco League is most represented with five squads while the stout Northern League sends four.
Class 3A overview
The chances for a fifth consecutive Erie-Holy Family title-game matchup are no longer alive, as the teams ended up on the same side of the bracket. Erie is the top seed and Holy Family No. 4, meaning a matchup between the foes would happen in the semifinals.
Holy Family precariously qualified, needing eight innings to escape Peak to Peak 2-1 in a District 4 qualifying game. Erie is moving to 4A next season and is looking to put the finishing touches on a dominating dozen years in 3A. Since the classification was formed in 1998, Erie has appeared in all 11 title games and won nine.
Offering challenge will be Patriot League rivals Burlington (No. 2 seed) and Valley (3) and fifth-seeded Faith Christian.
While the final pieces to the postseason puzzle fall into place this week, it’s the perfect time to give props to those teams that rose to the challenge and captured league titles. Overall, there is balance throughout the state, particularly at the Class 5A level, setting up what should be an intriguing playoff season.
In the big-school bracket, Cherry Creek, which took over the top spot in the Colorado High School Coaches Association/MaxPreps poll this week, emerged unscathed in the Centennial League and figures to earn the state’s top seed when they are announced Sunday by the Colorado High School Activities Association.
Also cruising through its league schedule was Bear Creek, as the Bears went undefeated in the Jefferson County League. Bear Creek is hoping for a top-four seed after finishing 14-0-1, with the lone loss coming against Mountain Vista. Meanwhile, Hinkley claimed the Skyline League championship.
Ponderosa and Heritage all but settled the Continental League crown Tuesday, with Heritage scoring a 2-0 victory and a possible top-four seed if the Eagles should beat Chaparral in their season finale Thursday.
The same was true for city rivals Rocky Mountain and Fort Collins. Fort Collins took the advantage with one game to play with a 2-1 victory, although in this deep league that win didn’t guarantee a league title. Rocky Mountain still has Mountain Range this week, while Fort Collins finishes with highly regarded Boulder. Fairview also remains in the mix.
The Colorado Springs Metro League race was similarly jumbled. Pine Creek, Liberty and Air Academy appeared to be headed for a three-way tie before co-leader Pine Creek lost 2-1 to Sand Creek on Tuesday. Liberty beat Air Academy 1-0 in their matchup Oct. 13.
The Denver Prep League game Wednesday between Lincoln and defending state champion Denver East holds particular importance. A Lincoln victory would give the Lancers the DPL title outright, while also stating their case for a top-four seed. A Denver East victory forces a three-way tie with Denver South, which beat the Angels last week when they had four starters out of the lineup because of the flu.
Montrose, a 4A team, won the 5A/4A Southwestern League outright with a 1-1 tie against Grand Junction on Tuesday.
The Class 4A league races are much more definitive, with Broomfield (Northern), Wheat Ridge (Jefferson County) and Pueblo Centennial (South Central) already having clinched championships and likely a top seed in the postseason.
Meanwhile, Lewis-Palmer and Cheyenne Mountain entered play this week unbeaten in the Colorado Springs Metro League, with Cheyenne Mountain resisting a challenge from formidable Castle View on Tuesday to post a 1-0 win in overtime. The league champion figures to be awarded the final top-four seed.
Battle Mountain (7-0-3) held a half-game lead over Steamboat Springs (6-0-4) entering Tuesday’s action, and the Huskies finish with Eagle Valley, while Steamboat Springs will play Moffat County in the regular-season finale.
In Class 3A, Peak to Peak has a hold on Region 1’s top seed, while Denver Christian will meet Colorado Academy on Friday to determine the top spot in Region 2. Sheridan had an opportunity to take the top spot in Region 3 outright with a win against Middle Park, but a 4-1 Middle Park victory forged a three-way tie with Lake County.
Lutheran-Parker and Alexander Dawson have identical records in Region 4, and the teams tied in their head-to-head meeting. Ridgway ran away with Region 5, as did Weld Central in Region 6. Basalt heads Region 7, while top-ranked Colorado Springs Christian has the top spot in Region 8.
Meanwhile, Frontier Academy easily outdistanced the field in Region 9, while Evangelical Christian and Fountain Valley still are posturing in Region 10.
MaxPreps Colorado editor Gerry Valerio contributed to this report. Follow Valerio on Twitter for Colorado high school sports updates.