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Erie has burst out to an unblemished 9-0 record this fall, a mark that includes a pair of wins in the highly-competitive Downtown Showdown at Metro State as well as three triumphs in the prestigious Erie Tournament of Champions. The Colorado Sports Network caught up with Tigers head coach Harold Simmons to go in-depth on his squad, including insight into the team’s expectations, ace pitcher Rio Sanchez, the dynamics of his offense and much more. The full Pulse Check:

After falling to eventual champion Valor Christian 1-0 in the state semifinal last season, the No. 1 Tigers realize that every single moment of this season will count should the program wish to attain its 12th state championship and first title since 2010:

Following the gradation of several key seniors from last spring’s 21-3 campaign—most notably, there was a void left by the departure of shortstop Katie Glaze—Simmons & Co. have been focused on filling a few key gaps defensively as the Tigers (9-0, 4-0 Tri-Valley League) look to make yet another 4A state tournament run:

Though Erie has traditionally dominated in the Tri-Valley League, the Tigers have made it a point to schedule tough opponents outside of conference play in order to get the team ready for typical heavyweights such as Valor Christian and Wheat Ridge come state tournament time—and that’s something Simmons believes EHS has done yet again this fall:

The Erie Tournament of Champions has been not only been a staple of the Tigers’ evolution into an elite program, it’s also now completely engrained into the fabric of Colorado high school softball as a whole. And as Simmons explains, it’s an early-season highlight that can prove to be a valuable litmus test for 5A and 4A squads with state title aspirations:

As Rio Sanchez’s 2015 performance proved—when the then-junior earned every single one of the Tigers’ wins with a 1.20 ERA in addition to hitting a team-leading .439—Erie boasts one of the best, if not the best, pitcher in the state regardless of classification. But as Simmons emphasizes, it’s intangibles that make the Central Arkansas commit truly special:

Senior Maddie Foster is anchoring the leadoff spot for the Tigers through the first stretch of the season, and Sanchez is again one of the team’s heavy hitters along with junior Hannah Hackney. But EHS is much more potent beyond those three hitters, as Simmons is excited that this year’s team has more offensive firepower than last year’s squad that was on the doorstep of a state finals appearance:

Make no mistake: Simmons and his team know that no matter how much regular season success they’ll enjoy though the rest of September and the first half of October, all of their state title aspirations run through pitcher Ali Kilponen and Valor Christian—and it’s a task the Tigers are primed for as they take the field for each inning this fall:

For more insight into 4A softball, read our full 2016 preview