Recruit named newspaper's player of the year

By Zak Brown published December 12, 2003

NOTE: Reprinted with the permission of the Boulder Daily Camera.

ERIE â Before every game his dominating team plays, Erie softball coach Bob Bledsoe gives a speech.

As for what he says, Sarah Cleland can't recall anything in particular. After hearing four years worth of Bledsoe's lectures, things have started to run together.

Since beginning her career as a freshman starting shortstop, Cleland has been there for every speech. The senior started all but a handful of games at shortstop in her career and helped the Tigers win three state titles in her first three years. This season, she and her motivator made it 4-for-4 by capturing the title with a 9-0 win over La Junta in the championship game to cap a 22-4 season.

For their efforts, Cleland and Bledsoe were named the Daily Camera's Player and Coach of the Year for the second consecutive season.

"Coach Bledsoe always gives us a lecture to try and remind us of what we have to do," said Cleland, who after hitting .425 with 26 RBIs knows exactly what to do. "I've heard it so many times before that sometimes I don't even remember what he said."

Very few players are able to hear his speeches as many times as Cleland. From the moment she entered Erie High, she was the starting shortstop. She was a spectacular player every year for Bledsoe and helped make winning a state title the only thing acceptable for the Tigers.

"Everybody expected us to win," Cleland said. "It would have been horrible (if we had lost)."

In addition to the four titles Bledsoe has won since Cleland's arrival, he also has one from 1998. He's been at Erie for 17 years, the softball coach for eight and has carved a powerhouse from scratch out of a school of 287 students in a town of roughly 6,000 people.

The Tigers are the dominating team in 3A, losing only once in the classification to La Junta. They went undefeated in their league, allowing four runs in the entire Patriot Longs Peak league season.

The Tigers consistently play up, finishing this season 6-1 against teams in 4A or 5A. Two of the 5A teams the Tigers beat were in the Class 5A semifinals. One of them, Wheat Ridge, won the state championship. Another 4A team, Ralston Valley, was in the state semifinals.

"Talent," Bledsoe said, is his secret. "We've had good kids, talented kids, almost from Day One."

Bledsoe has cultivated a dynasty on the eastern edge of Boulder County and Cleland has been one of his key components. Cleland, who turned down Division I scholarships to play at Division II University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, can hit for average and power, with two home runs. She hasn't hit under .400 since that freshman season. But there aren't any stats that can truly measure the type of player she is on the field.

"I'm telling you, there have been many instances where I said to just hold the ball and she still throws the runner out," Bledsoe said.

Even though Bledsoe will lose Cleland, he has shown he can cultivate more talent. There are already girls in middle school waiting to hear his speeches. But it will be tough to replace the four-year starter, even if the Tigers make it a five-title streak.

"The truth is she can play any position on a field," Bledsoe said. "She could be my Rod Smith quarterback-type, the third-string pitcher. That's how gifted she is."

That's what Cleland should remember Bledsoe saying.

UCCS Players/Staff Featured

Sarah ClelandSarah Cleland14IFFr.
Sarah ClelandSarah Cleland14IFFr.
Sarah ClelandSarah Cleland14CJr.
Sarah ClelandSarah Cleland14IFFr.
Sarah ClelandSarah Cleland14IFFr.
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