Pitching is the name of the game when it comes to the baseball postseason and both of Aurora’s qualifiers for the Class 5A Championship Series have it.
Regis Jesuit and Cherokee Trail — the same two teams that represented the city in last season’s double-elimination tournament that decided the state championship — are back again for this year’s series and pitching is a big reason.
The Raiders and Cougars won two games apiece at the Region 3 and 8 tournaments, respectively, and three of the four games were complete games for the starting pitchers and another was a six-inning effort, which made life much easier for their coaches.
In his successful and lengthy tenure at Regis Jesuit, Matt Darr has seen some tough battles and anxious moments in regional play, as the single-elimination format ramps up the pressure, no matter what teams are involved.
Darr could almost sit back and relax May 21 during the Region 3 tournament, as senior Jack Carey and freshman Hudson Alpert pitched a combined 12 scoreless innings as the Raiders defeated Vista Ridge and Ralston Valley by a combined score of 17-0 to advance to the Championship Series.
“It’s generally not a good night’s sleep the night before regionals, but this turned out to be at the least stressful district I’ve ever had,” Darr said, noting it wasn’t a knock on the the quality of competition, rather it was due to the pitching and loose nature of his team.
Carey opened the day with a four-hit shutout of Vista Ridge in a game shortened by the mercy rule in a 10-0 victory, while Alpert continued an outstanding freshman season with a six-inning, two-hit effort against Ralston Valley in a 7-0 win.
Alpert has allowed just two runs in his last three games — spanning 18 2/3 innings — and earned wins over quality teams in Legend, Pine Creek and Ralston Valley while improving to 6-0 with a 1.93 ERA on the season.
“It was a fun day,” Darr said. “We talked about the important of our pitchers throwing a couple of zeros up early, pushing a run or two across early and it allows the kids to breathe. Then you just play at that point and when you are the better team, it allows it to show.”
Regis Jesuit also had no shortage of offense to back up its stellar pitching. The Raiders didn’t need a big day from junior shortstop Andrew Bell — who has been red-hot this season — or the other heavy hitters in the lineup such as sophomore Christian Lopez and junior Brody Chyr, rather they got contributions up and down the order.
Because of the signs of life of other players offensively, the pitching and how Regis Jesuit has come through when it a slew of closer ballgames this season, Darr feels good about how his team will play when the double-elimination tournament begins May 26.
Up first for the Raiders is a Chaparral team it lost to 11-7 earlier in the season in a game in which they made nine errors and got into a 10-run hole early.
“If we come out and play the way we did this weekend, I have no concerns,” Darr said.
Cherokee Trail coach Jon DiGiorgio had seen a number of tough breaks go against his team over the course of the regular season, which scuttled the Cougars’ record and put them a difficult position as the No. 25 seed out of 32 teams in regionals.
But arm talent can even the playing field and junior Logan Reid and sophomore Carter Wilcox threw back-to-back complete games May 22 as Cherokee Trail upset No. 8 and host Legend 5-2 and then No. 9 Pine Creek 4-1.
Reid held the Continental League champion Titans, who had a heathy average of nearly eight runs per game, to just four hits and two runs, while Wilcox struck out 11 and scattered four hits against the Eagles, a very capable offensive team as well.
“Our pitching was lights out with Logan and Carter,” DiGiorgio said. “That’s the best they’ve looked all season and it was a great time for that. I think we’re all just shocked the 25 seed was able to make it out of there. I’m just still living on a high right now.”
But Cherokee Trail is not just any ordinary No. 25 seed. The Cougars have a tradition of strong postseason play and were one of the final three teams left in last season’s state tournament.
There are some holdovers from that team in seniors Bowen Tabola — who had a big two-run double in the win over Legend — and versatile Tommy Munch, along with junior infielder Braedan Reichert and Reid, who started the Cougars’ semifinal game in the Championship Series last year.
Sophomores Brody Ceyrolles, Akoi Burton and other new regulars have a season behind them for Cherokee Trail and look ready to have their moments.
“We’ve had a lot of things go against us this season, but we’re battle tested and these are the moments those things come out,” said DiGiorgio, whose team plays No. 1 Broomfield May 26.
The Championship Series opens with games May 26-27 at All-City Stadium in Denver and Lakewood’s All-Star Park and concludes June 2-3 at All-Star Park.
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at email@example.com. Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports