LAKEWOOD | Tyler Wilcox has the calm demeanor that is perfectly suited for big games and it served him well for seven innings Friday morning at All-Star Park.
Unfazed by the big moment or No. 2 Legacy in the opener of the Class 5A Baseball Championship Series at All-Star Park, the Cherokee Trail senior right-hander made big pitches, trusted his defense and pitched a complete game in the Cougars’ 6-2 win.
Wilcox did not walk a batter and scattered six hits on his way a sixth complete game of the season, while giving coach Jon DiGiorgio’s Cougars a big boost to open the double-elimination tournament.
“Some of these teams can really hit, so you have to be comfortable and just pitch your way out sometimes,” said Wilcox, who improved to 4-1 on the season. “It was a good team win with a lot of energy. We just have to keep that energy up and keep going.”
The victory moved Cherokee Trail along in the winner’s bracket and into a contest scheduled for 2 p.m. against No. 3 Chaparral, which downed No. 6 Vista Ridge 11-6.
Wilcox allowed eight hits and seven runs in a meeting with Legacy during the regular season — an 8-5 win for the Lightning back on April 9 — but it was completely different this time around as he surrendered only single runs in the third and fifth innings to Legacy, which came into the game at 22-2 and was voted No. 1 in the final Colorado High School Activities Association coaches poll.
Cherokee Trail’s defense stepped up as well, playing error-free behind Wilcox and making some outstanding plays.
Senior right fielder Kaelen Bing made a sliding catch on a sinking ball in the bottom of the first inning, then tracked a ball and hauled it in against the right field fence in the fifth inning. A potential Lightning rally in the fourth inning was stopped when Marcus Romero doubled to open the inning, but Cherokee Trail senior catcher Bowen Tabola plucked Blake Roberts’ bunt out of the air and doubled off Romero at second base.
“It’s so nice to have all my guys out there and we’re all working in unison,” Wilcox said. “It makes my job a lot easier.”
Tabola caught Wilcox and said it is his mindset that makes him successful.
“Tyler is easily the best mentally on the field for us; he does it with his mind, basically,” Tabola said. “He didn’t miss a spot today and he doesn’t get too high or too low. He shows a little emotion, but then he’s right back to it.”
Cherokee Trail’s offense gave its pitcher a cushion early, as it scored two runs in the second inning off Legacy starter Connor Antczak. Tabola and Will Parsons drew back-to-back walks and Charlie Boyd singled to load the bases with one out. Bing’s groundout brought in a run and so did Nick Barber’s infield single.
Senior Dylan Hommes singled and later scored on a fielding error by Legacy that extended the third inning and two more runs came across in the top of the fifth when Parsons drove in Braeden Richert (who had been hit by a pitch) with a single and Boyd beat out a potential double play ball that allowed another run to score.
Tabola hit a line drive home run leading off the seventh inning that gave Cherokee Trail some extra cushion.
“Our staff is experienced in terms of the state tournament, but you just have to make it here and give yourself a chance,” DiGiorgio said. “You never know. The state tournament is always different. We got great support from our community and just believing is a big part of this. Just knowing that we can.”
Cherokee Trail wasn’t the only team to pull off an upset in the opening games, as Aurora’s other qualifier — No. 1 Regis Jesuit — fell to No. 8 Douglas County 5-4 in a game played at All-City Stadium. Isaac Wachsmann’s three-run home run in the bottom of the fifth inning put the Raiders in front, but the Huskies scored in each of the final two frames to win.
Regis Jesuit drops into the elimination bracket and will play at 9 a.m. Saturday at All-City Stadium against Valor Christian.
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports