DENVER | For the good or for the bad, baseball is a game of inches, a reality the Cherokee Trail baseball team knows full well.
The Cougars were certainly devastated that their fantastic run in the Class 5A Championship Series came to an end June 4, a game short of the final in a one-run loss to Legacy, but they all knew the reality of the sport they love.
The slim margin between wins and losses went again them this time, but it had been on their side more often than not up until that point.
“It’s baseball, you fail more than you succeed,” Cherokee Trail coach Jon DiGiorgio said after his team finished the season 21-8 after a 9-8 defeat at All-City Stadium knocked them out of the double-elimination tournament.
The Cougars — seeking to get the program back on the state’s radar after some atypical down seasons plus the pandemic — succeeded much more than they failed in the postseason. They finished 6-2 between regionals and the Championship Series, where their two losses came by a combined three runs.
Cherokee Trail watched Legacy and Broomfield — both teams it defeated during the tournament — battle it out for the state title (which the fifth-seeded Eagles won with a 7-6 decision) and it also eliminated the No. 1 seed, Regis Jesuit.
“You can’t complain, our resume is pretty good,” DiGiorgio said. “I don’t really know what to say about that. We took down the No. 1 and No. 2 teams. They (Legacy) got us today, but another day, who knows?”
For a team that came into the season in the receiving votes portion of the 5A preseason coaches poll, to win a share of the Centennial League championship and then finish essentially third is something to proud of for sure.
Cherokee Trail would have had a chance to play for the big prize — which would have been the third time in program history after it won the 5A title in 2016 and the 4A crown in 2007 — if it could have held on to a 6-1 lead it built after four innings with its trademark blend of speed on the basepaths and timely hitting.
The Cougars also had a good game going on the mound from sophomore Logan Reid, who surprisingly cleared to pitch mid-week after suffering a shoulder injury two weeks earlier.
The left-hander sailed along through four innings and got two outs with no damage done in the top of the fifth before the game of inches started to go in the other direction.
Senior Tyler Wilcox — who threw his second complete game of the season a day earlier against Broomfield to help send his team to the final day — started at shortstop in place of injured sophomore starter Braeden Reichert and his throw to complete a double play arrived at first base a fraction of a second late. Then a sinking line drive to left field landed in the webbing of the glove of diving senior outfielder Coby Austin, but rolled out as he hit the ground, extending the inning.
“That one’s going to be eating me up for awhile, but that’s life I guess,” said Austin, who had made several big plays in the outfield previously in the tournament.
A few more well-placed hits — several with two strikes — turned a potentially harmless inning into a five-run rally that tied the game at 6-6. Reid had to come out due to pitch count and junior Tommy Munch — a position player who was a hero on the first weekend for throwing a complete game to save arms — watched a high chopper over a drawn-in infield cap a three-run rally as the Cougars trailed 9-6.
Though the end of the game was near, there was no panic in Cherokee Trail, especially with the Barber brothers (seniors Nick and Brett) coming up to start the sixth. Both reached base, executed a double steal of second and third and were driven home to cut the deficit to one run.
With two outs, Wilcox lifted a drive to right field that would have driven in the tying and go-ahead runs had it fallen, but Legacy’s Marcus Romero hauled it in with a diving catch.
“We had two runners on and if that drops, they both score and we’re ahead,” Nick Barber said. “That might have been the game right there. But that’s OK, it’s baseball.”
Nick Barber had his fourth hit of the day in the seventh, but the Cougars were unable to bring him home.
It brought to an end a very memorable stretch run for a group of 11 seniors who had lost their sophomores seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which also forced them to play a shortened junior season.
“This is a very special moment, I’m never going to forget it,” said senior Andrew Godfrey, who delivered three hits and drove in three runs in the final game. “In the sixth and seventh innings, I was just looking up at the fans and soaking it in. I knew it would end right here in some way. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports
2022 Class 5A Championship Series
June 4 at All-City Stadium
(2) LEGACY 9, (7) CHEROKEE TRAIL 8
Score by innings (r-h-e):
Legacy 010 053 0 — 9 11 4
Cher. Trail 104 102 0 — 8 12 1
Brandon Sanchez 5-1-2-0, Kieran Gaffney 4-1-1-0, Ethan Sanchez 4-1-1-0, Derek Olsen 4-0-2-2, Blake Roberts 4-1-1-2, Marcus Romero 2-2-2-2, Peyton Malecha 3-0-1-1, Braden Hollins 2-1-0-0, Quinn Walker 1-0-0-0, Garrett Mari cr 0-2-0-0. Totals 33-9-11-8. Pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so): Landen Sehr (2 1/3-4-4-4-0-0), Jaidon D’Ambrosio (W, 2/3-3-2-1-1-0), Senan Heys (2 2/3-4-2-2-1-1), Kieran Gaffney (Save, 1 1/3-1-0-0-1-1)
CHEROKEE TRAIL (ab-r-h-rbi)
Nick Barber cf 5-3-4-0, Brett Barber 2b 5-1-1-0, Tommy Munch 2-2-1-2, Bowen Tabola c 1-0-1-1, Andrew Godfrey 3b 4-1-3-3, Will Parsons dh 3-0-1-1, Tyler Wilcox 4-0-1-0, Coby Austin lf 3-0-0-0, Kaelen Bing rf 4-0-0-0, Dylan Hommes pr 0-1-0-0. Totals 31-8-12-7. Pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so): Logan Reid (5-8-6-5-0-4), Tommy Munch (L, 2-3-3-3-3-1)
2B — Legacy: Derek Olsen