Rebels fall to eventual state champs in quarterfinals

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By Brian Forbes

AURORA — Run support figured to be Columbine’s biggest challenge at the state tournament.

It was.

The Rebels got the usual outstanding pitching from senior fireballer Kelsey O’Brien, but the bats were left in the cave.

Seventh-seeded Columbine advanced to the Class 5A state quarterfinals with a nailbiting 1-0 victory over No. 10 Brighton, before being ousted Oct. 17 by eventual champions and No. 2 seed Legacy in a 4-0 defeat.

O’Brien struck out 14 against Brighton and fanned 11 against Legacy, which featured the state’s top pitcher in junior Shelby Babcock. Babcock struck out 17 Rebels, limiting them to just one hit, and provided a key RBI double at the plate.

“I was really determined for this game,” O’Brien said of facing Babcock. “I was really hoping for the best. I was hoping we wouldn’t beat ourselves like we did. It’s all you can ask for.”

Columbine finished its season 13-10 and O’Brien ended with 200 strikeouts, despite battling some injuries early in the season.

Nerves melted into relief in Columbine’s opening game at Aurora Sports Park against Brighton. The Rebels loaded the bases with one out and couldn’t get a run across and were still drawing blanks despite O’Brien’s one-out triple in the top of the sixth.

Kelsey Boyle led off the bottom of the seventh by getting hit by a pitch but was forced out on Dana Kuglin’s fielder’s choice. Sarah Magner smacked a double toward center field to put runners on third and second.

The Bulldogs made a pitching change and brought in freshman Paxton Duran, who promptly struck out Maddie Schwindt. But Rebels shortstop Allie Walen delivered with two outs, stroking a shot deep into left field to score Kuglin to win the game.

“I think we were pumped up after that,” O’Brien said.

That momentum seemed to carry and counteract Legacy’s momentum following the Lightning’s 8-0 victory over Grandview. O’Brien and Babcock were fanning hitters right and left through the first three innings before the Lightning struck for three runs in the top of the fourth.

O’Brien struck out the leadoff hitter before surrendering consecutive doubles and a single. O’Brien got Shae Rodriguez to pop up to her catcher for the second out but Jessica Vermillion broke it open with a two-run double to make it 3-0.

Columbine could not answer.

“That was tough,” Walen said. “Everyone kind of got down. We stayed up and we tried to keep going, but they put a lot on us.”

Said O’Brien: “Once they got their first run I think our team just kind of slowed down.”

Babcock’s rise ball was her overpowering pitch, but she did a great job of keeping the Rebels off balance. Columbine avoided the no-hitter thanks to junior Megan Bond, who hit a double in the bottom of the fourth.

Babcock finished the season with a 22-1 record and 294 striketouts.

“She’s pretty fast,” Walen said. “She pitched a lot of high stuff we just needed to lay off. It’s tough, but it can be done.”

Legacy defeated Bear Creek 1-0 in the semifinals and defeated Ralston Valley 4-1 to win its second consecutive championship.