Softball: Cherokee Trail, Eaglecrest take swings at winning 5A title

Junior Lexi Gillen (15) and the Cherokee Trail softball team are clearly thrilled to be in the Class 5A state softball tournament for the first time since 2012. The second-seeded Cougars and third-seeded Eaglecrest represent Aurora in the 16-team field set to compete for the 5A state championship Oct. 21-22, 2016, at the Aurora Sports Park. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Aurora Sentinel)

One team will play in the Class 5A state softball tournament for a fifth straight season, while the other is there for the first time since 2012.

Yet there’s no doubt both the former, Eaglecrest, and the latter, Cherokee Trail, have the ability to finish on top at the conclusion of the Oct. 21-22 5A state tournament at the Aurora Sports Park.

The Raptors and Cougars both earned their way into the 16-team state field at the same venue, as both played host to regional tournaments Oct. 15.

Only one of the two Aurora teams can play for the title, as they both ended up in the bottom half of the bracket with Cherokee Trail the No. 2 overall seed and Eaglecrest the No. 3. The teams could meet in the semifinals at 10 a.m. Oct. 22 with two wins on Oct. 21.

Cherokee Trail’s significant senior class will be in for a new experience as the last time the program was in the mix was the year before they arrived in high school.

Since making state in 2012, the Cougars missed regionals altogether in 2013, lost both regional games in 2014 and dropped a 5-3 decision to Smoky Hill with a state berth on the line last season.

So many frustrations went away when sophomore Delanie Cox crossed home plate for a clinching, walk-off 6-5 win over Brighton.

“It’s just overwhelming joy; I could cry right now,” said senior pitcher Emily Bell, who got the win in relief with six solid innings and also pitched in the Cougars’ 15-0 opening win over Pine Creek.

“We haven’t been in the spot before, but we finally executed and we made it,” she added. “We’ve been a team that could go all the way for three years now — especially our freshman year when our seniors were amazing — but we always seemed to blow it somehow. Now, we’ve got our chance.”

The Cougars showed all the elements of a team that could survive through the state tournament in its regional performance, especially in their comeback win over Brighton.

Trailing 4-0 after one inning, Cherokee Trail chipped away little by little, played great defense — senior outfielder Chloe Knapp turned a big double play and senior second baseman Lexi Gillen threw out a baseunner at home plate in the seventh inning — and won in dramatic fashion when Cox scored on a wild pitch.

Coach Caley Mitchell, in her second season with the program, was just as relieved as the players.

“They overcame an obstacle and that was big,” Mitchell said. “Now, we can roll. We have everything we need.”

Seeded No. 2, Cherokee Trail (18-3) faces No. 15 Legacy (15-7).

Eaglecrest lost to Cherokee Trail 8-1 in its Centennial League finale, but has rolled since then.

Building on a road win at Fossil Ridge — another 5A state qualifier — in their regular season finale, the Raptors outscored their two regional opponents — Chatfield and Ralston Valley — 21-1 with two mercy rule-shortened victories.

Coach Yvette Hendrian admitted she spent a lot of time in the days before regionals driving home a lot of important lessons to her players, then saw them come through in a big way.

“I was riding them pretty hard in practice to the point where they said ‘Coach, you have to chill,’ but this team is resilient,” she said. “I stayed on them and they come out and do this.”

Sophomore shortstop Rachel Sabourin — who hit her 10th home run of the season in the opening win — said the Raptors have been great about maintaining focus all season and now have their sites set on a run at the state title.

“Every practice, we set a goal of no mental errors,” Sabourin said. “We are a team that is all about setting goals and reaching them. If we keep raising them, it will pay off in the end.”

Seeded No. 3, Eaglecrest (17-4) opens vs. No. 14 Brighton (18-4).

Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel


First round, Oct. 21 at Aurora Sports Park (Complex B)

Upper bracket

No. 16 Cherry Creek (11-11) vs. No. 1 Broomfield (19-2), 10 a.m.

No. 9 Douglas County (17-5) vs. No. 8 Mountain Range (12-9), 10 a.m.

No. 13 Ralston Valley (13-8) vs. No. 4 Loveland (15-6), 10 a.m.

No. 12 Fossil Ridge (17-5) vs. No. 5 Dakota Ridge (13-8), 10 a.m.

Lower bracket

No. 14 Brighton (18-4) vs. NO. 3 EAGLECREST (17-4), 12:15 p.m.

No. 11 Legend (16-5-1) vs. No. 6 Fort Collins (14-7), 12:15 p.m.

No. 15 Legacy (15-7) vs. NO. 2 CHEROKEE TRAIL (18-3), 12:15 p.m.

No. 10 Grand Junction Central (18-3-1) vs. No. 7 Rock Canyon (12-9), 12:15 p.m.

Quarterfinals, Oct. 21

Cherry Creek/Broomfield winner vs. Douglas County/Mountain Range winner, 2:30 p.m.

Ralston Valley/Loveland winner vs. Fossil Ridge/Dakota Ridge winner, 2:30 p.m.

Brighton/EAGLECREST winner vs. Legend/Fort Collins winner, 2:30 p.m.

Legacy/CHEROKEE TRAIL winner vs. G.J. Central/Rock Canyon winner, 2:30 p.m.

Semifinals, Oct. 22

Upper bracket winners, 10 a.m.

Lower bracket winners, 10 a.m.

Championship, Oct. 22

Semifinals winners, 1:30 p.m.