Softball: Knapp homer lifts Cherokee Trail to first 5A state title with eighth-inning win

464
wmhigh-knappsmile1732fb3200
Cherokee Trail senior Chloe Knapp is all smiles as she returns to the dugout after hitting a solo home run that turned out to be the only run of the game in the Cougars’ 1-0 victory over Broomfield in the 2016 Class 5A state softball championship game on Oct. 22, 2016, at the Aurora Sports Park. Knapp also homered to win Cherokee Trail’s quarterfinal game against Rock Canyon. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Aurora Sentinel)

AURORA | Meet Chloe Knapp, Ms. October.

The Cherokee Trail senior might have passed for Reggie Jackson (aka Mr. October) with the New York Yankees for her clutch performances throughout the Class 5A state softball tournament, as she helped power the Cougars to their first ever state championship.

A day after her dramatic walk-off grand slam moved Cherokee Trail into the final four, Knapp’s line drive home run over the center field fence in the top of the eighth inning stood up as the only run in the second-seeded Cougars’ intense 1-0 victory over top-seeded Broomfield Oct. 22 at sundrenched Aurora Sports Park.

“I’m really, really happy,” Knapp said, tears of joy streaming down her face. “I don’t think there’s been anything that’s compared to this weekend ever for me (in softball).

“This is definitely going to be a memory that I’m going to hold onto forever.”

The memory of Knapp’s state tournament performance will linger for a lot of people.

Cherokee Trail defeats Broomfield in the 5A State Softball championship game 1-0 on Saturday Oct. 22, 2016 at Aurora Sports Park. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel
Cherokee Trail senior Sonoma Olson, right, holds the Class 5A state softball championship trophy as senior Skylar Higens, center, hugs senior Chloe Knapp. The Cougars topped Broomfield 1-0 in eight innings in the 5A state final on Oct. 22, 2016, at the Aurora Sports Park. (Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel)

Just a few hours before her deciding home run, Knapp had plastered herself against the fence in foul territory in right field to catch a pop up from Eaglecrest slugger Rachel Sabourin and preserve Cherokee Trail’s 11-8 semifinal win over the Raptors.

It was all in a weekend’s work for Knapp, who provided the deciding plays while her teammates pitched, defended and banded together at a championship level.

With a group that had never played in the 5A state tournament before — including a hungry senior class of Knapp, Emily Bell, Skylar Higens, Sonoma Olson and Audrey Pickett, who’d always wanted to see what they could do at state — the Cougars (22-3) proceeded to turn the tournament on its ear once they got there.

“It’s hard to just get in here (to state), but once we got through, I knew anything could happen,” said coach Caley Mitchell, who won a title in her second season with the program.

Even with no previous state experience, Mitchell’s group took down perennial powerhouse Legacy in the opening round (an 11-10 thriller), stunned Rock Canyon with a comeback from a 4-0 deficit on Knapp’s dramatic blast in the quarterfinals and got past a red-hot Eaglecrest team in the semifinals to make the championship game against Broomfield, which came into the game on a 17-game winning streak.

In a game that turned out only one run total, Cherokee Trail nearly had one in the first inning when junior Megan Medhus walked, Higens singled and Knapp reached on an error to load the bases. With sophomore Delanie Cox at the plate, Eagles’ starter Taylor Gilmore threw a ball past catcher MacKenzie Jackson and Medhus tried to score, but was tagged out at the plate by a covering Gilmore.

The Cougars would get turned away in the inning and stranded a whopping eight base runners in the first four frames, yet struggled to execute against Gilmore, who began to settle in.

Bell kept Broomfield (22-3) off the board in the first inning despite yielding a leadoff double to Avery Bohn and got into a groove of her own in the second through fifth innings. The senior right-hander retired 10 straight batters in that span, with the help of a spectacular diving catch by junior Alyssa Pinto on Linnie Malkin’s screaming line drive in the fourth.

Cherokee Trail defeats Broomfield in the 5A State Softball championship game 1-0 on Saturday Oct. 22, 2016 at Aurora Sports Park. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel
Cherokee Trail senior pitcher Emily Bell held a potent Broomfield offense — which had scored 35 runs in three games at the Class 5A state softball tournament — to no runs on four hits in eight innings in the 5A final on Oct. 22, 2016. (Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel)

“Linnie smoked that ball and I turned around and it was in Alyssa Pinto’s glove, so that was big,” Bell said. “I just kept throwing my curve outside and living on the outside. They didn’t make any adjustments to move up on the plate, so we just stuck with the game plan and executed.”

Cherokee Trail’s best chance to score came in the top of the seventh when Pickett drew a walk as a pinch hitter and courtesy runner Haley Albers moved to second on Medhus’ groundout and to third on a wild pitch. Gilmore struck out Higens looking to end the inning.

With a chance to win the game, Gilmore doubled to lead off the seventh inning and ignited the Broomfield faithful. Bell bore down, however, and struck out Mikki Morales, got a fielder’s choice from Kendall Lockwood and induced a ground ball out to junior Lexi Gillen — Cherokee Trail’s defensive highlight-maker the whole weekend — to push the game to extra innings.

It looked grim, but the seniors steadied the ship with their backs to the wall.

“Sonoma and Skylar kept me grounded and said we’re not losing like this,” Bell said. “I went after the batters and we got through.”

Added Higens: “I knew we needed three outs and if we could make it to the eighth inning, we were going to score.”

Like all of her teammates, Knapp suffered a nerve-wracking bottom of the seventh in the field, but had relaxed by the time she stepped into the batters box to lead off the eighth.

Cherokee Trail defeats Broomfield in the 5A State Softball championship game 1-0 on Saturday Oct. 22, 2016 at Aurora Sports Park. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel
Members of the Cherokee Trail softball team wait for senior Chloe Knapp at home plate after Knapp’s solo home run in the eighth inning. (Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel)

Knapp hit the second pitch she saw to center field where it just cleared the low fence and sent a TV cameraman diving out of the way.

“I just had to breathe and I was joking with some girls to lighten me up a little bit,” Knapp said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen, I just knew I needed to hit the ball, put it in the gap. That was the only option. I didn’t know if it was out, but I crossed my fingers.”

Teammates who have known Knapp and her clutch play weren’t surprised in the least.

‘“She did it this whole week, I  wouldn’t have expected anybody else,” Higens said. “She is the most calm player we had on our team and I think that helped us through these big tournaments and situations.”

Jackson singled to lead off Broomfield’s bottom of the eighth, but Bell got a strike out, fielder’s choice and fly ball to right field to seal the victory.

Just a little bit more drama to make the tournament even more memorable than it already had been for a group that believed from the first day of the season that this was possible.

“We knew today was our last time wearing the CT jersey and we just wanted to go out and make a mark,” Olson said. “We did that.”

Added Pickett: “This is the perfect ending to a senior year.”

Notes: Both teams in the championship game had never won a state softball championship before…Cherokee Trail’s softball championship was the second in three years for an Aurora school, as it joined 2014 champion Grandview in the winner’s circle. Among Aurora programs, Eaglecrest (5A, 2005) and Gateway (6A, 1992) own the other softball titles.

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

2016 CLASS 5A STATE SOFTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

Oct. 22 at Aurora Sports Park

(2) CHEROKEE TRAIL 1, (1) BROOMFIELD 0 (8 inn.)

Score by innings (r-h-e):

Cher. Trail  000 000 01 —  1  4  0

Broomfield 000 000 00 — 0  4  2

CHEROKEE TRAIL (ab-r-h-rbi)

Megan Medhus c 3-0-0-0, Alyssa Pinto cf 4-0-0-0, Skylar Higens 1b 4-0-2-0, Chloe Knapp lf 3-1-1-1, Delanie Cox ss 3-0-0-0, Sonoma Olson 3b 2-0-0-0, Lexi Gillen 2b 3-0-0-0, Kaitlyn Roenfeldt rf 4-0-0-0, Haley Albers dp 2-0-1-0, Audrey Pickett ph 0-0-0-0, Taylor Warne pr 0-0-0-0, Alexis Cortez pr 0-0-0-0. Totals 28-1-4-1. Pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-s0): Emily Bell (W, 8-4-0-0-2-7)

BROOMFIELD (ab-r-h-rbi)

Avery Bohn rf 3-0-1-0, Brennan Thomas 3-0-0-0, Linnie Malkin 3-0-0-0, Taylor Gilmore p 3-0-1-0, Matti Morales 1b 3-0-0-0, Megan Biesterfeld ss 2-0-0-0, Kendall Lockwood lf 3-0-1-0, Lainey Hughes 3-0-0-0, MacKenzie Jackson c 3-0-1-0. Totals 26-0-4-0. Pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so): Taylor Gilmore (L, 8-4-1-1-4-9)

2B — Broomfield: Avery Bohn, Taylor Gilmore. HR — Cherokee Trail: Chloe Knapp (solo in 8th). HBP — Cherokee Trail: Sonoma Olson 2.