Air Academy rally falls just short at state softball tourney

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Photo - Air Academy's Cassidy Horn pitches during the Air Academy and Elizabeth 4A softball state tournament at Aurora Sports Park on Friday, October 21, 2016. Photo by Stacie Scott, The Gazette
Air Academy's Cassidy Horn pitches during the Air Academy and Elizabeth 4A softball state tournament at Aurora Sports Park on Friday, October 21, 2016. Photo by Stacie Scott, The Gazette

AURORA - More late-game theatrics from Air Academy in the Class 4A state softball semifinals Saturday.

Just a different ending.

Trailing by four in the seventh inning, the fifth-seeded Kadets looked to have another unlikely victory on tap with four straight hits and two runs. But pitcher Rio Sanchez struck out the final two batters and No. 1 Erie survived one of the biggest scares to its perfect season, 6-4.

"We were a little nervous at first," Erie shortstop Maddie Foster said. "But once we settled in and focused, we just got it done."

Air Academy (18-5) rolled into the semis on the back of senior Payton Romines' three-run home run Friday. It nearly punched its ticket to the state final at Aurora Sports Park on Saturday.

Nearly.

"Going into that last inning we said if we don't win, let's go out with a fight," Kadets junior Karsen Romines said. "And I think we did that."

After a quick out, Karsen Romines doubled and Cassidy Horn singled in the seventh for the team's first consecutive hits off Sanchez.

Payton Romines scored her sister on a grounder and reached safely by avoiding a tag with a vicious, headfirst dive that injured her hand. Julia Elbert followed with a single to load the bases and Horn scored on a passed ball.

"Same as I said yesterday," Air Academy coach Chris Hernez said, "they just don't give up."

The Kadets had the tying runs in scoring position when Sanchez punched out the final two hitters.

"Give it all or nothing," said the senior Romines, who had a brace on her right hand after the game. "Even if we're playing the No. 1 team or the No. 500 team it doesn't matter. We are going to play as hard as we can."

Karsen Romines reached base four times and had three hits for Air Academy. Horn added two hits and allowed six runs in another complete-game effort.

The Kadets won twice Friday to become the first team from the area to advance to the semifinals since the 2010 Lewis-Palmer Rangers.

"I think a lot of people, especially since we lost (former pitcher) Megan (Horn), thought we wouldn't amount to anything," said Elbert, one of five seniors who played their last game for Air Academy. "I think we showed them."

Earlier, Erie scratched out three runs on two hits in the second to take a 3-1 lead. Foster broke the game open with a three-run home run in the third.

Sanchez, who had 13 strikeouts, kept the Air Academy bats tame just long enough.

"I couldn't be more proud of them," Hernez said. "They took the No. 1 team in the state to the limit and made them sweat."

No. 3 Valor Christian (24-1) handed Erie (24-1) its first loss of the year with a 3-1 win in the 4A championship game later in the day.