AURORA | The old adage that it’s hard to beat a good team three times bore itself out Saturday when the Cherokee Trail and Smoky Hill softball teams met in the Centennial League Challenge title game.
Two of the 15 wins in the Buffaloes’ undefeated start came at the expense of the Cougars — which yielded the Centennial League title and an automatic berth in the Class 5A state playoffs — but Cherokee Trail took advantage of the third meeting.
Junior pitcher Jenna Medhus shackled Smoky Hill’s potent hitting lineup until a rally in the final inning and coach Caley Mitchell’s second-seeded Cougars capitalized on every uncharacteristic miscue made by the top-seeded Buffaloes in a 7-5 victory to close the regular season.
“When you play a team that many times, it becomes a toss up; they are good, we’re good and we feel like we played them well the second game, so we weren’t scared of them,” Mitchell said. “We’re really glad we got to play them. It gave us good competition in the last game of the season rolling into state with a playoff atmosphere, so it was a win-win.”
The win for Cherokee Trail (14-2) solidified its credentials for inclusion in the 16-team 5A state tournament bracket, which will be seeded by the Colorado High School Activities Association Sunday evening. The Cougars will return to state after a year absence following a state championship game appearance in 2018, while Smoky Hill (15-1) is in the tournament for the third straight season.
The Cougars wasted little time getting on the scoreboard when junior Ryleigh Cruz singled on Kenedy Sandoval’s opening pitch of the game and came home when Medhus’ lined single to left field was mishandled for a run-scoring error. Freshman Addison Krei followed with a base hit to score Medhus for a two-run advantage that gave Cherokee Trail a mental edge as well.
“It gave us more confidence to push through and gave us faith we would win this time,” Cruz said of the strong start.
Smoky Hill had scored 11 runs in each of the previous two meetings — plating 16 of those runs against Medhus, who started both games — but Medhus was in control for most of the way in this one.
Despite issuing several walks to the middle of the Buffaloes order (nine in all for the game), Medhus held a lineup that averaged 12 runs per game to one hit and no runs through the first five innings.
“I faced them twice and they are a really good hitting team, so I had to hit my spots and keep it low,” Medhus said. “I had to not hang anything because they’ll take advantage. …I think those walks actually helped us instead of them hitting the ball hard and making it a higher scoring game than it was.”
By the time Delaney Farnsworth hit a solo home run to put Smoky Hill on the scoreboard in the bottom of the sixth inning, Cherokee Trail owned a seven-run advantage.
The Cougars added a run in the third inning when the Buffaloes dropped two infield pop-ups, then had a four-run rally against Sandoval and Farnsworth in the fourth that included a two-run single for Cruz and an RBI for Medhus.
Cherokee Trail wouldn’t manage a hit in the final three innings, but had built just enough of a cushion to survive a late Smoky Hill rally.
The Buffaloes scored four times in the bottom of the seventh inning that began with an error, a walk and hit batter. Junior first baseman Izzy Giroux — who was held without a base hit for the only time in the regular season — drew a bases loaded walk to force in a run, Farnsworth scored a run with a sacrifice fly and Khya Jennings singled in a run to make it 7-5 before Medhus got pinch hitter Morgan Cameron to ground out to shortstop Kelsey Bell to end the ballgame.
“We played tight for the first time all year and I don’t know if it was the pressure of next week or the intensity of games with CT, but we made three or four uncharacteristic mistakes,” Smoky Hill coach B.J. Kingsbaker said. “Our offensive approach became defensive for the first time this year and by the time we got back into it, we were in a seven-run hole.”
Cherokee Trail and Smoky Hill will be the only two Centennial League teams to advance to the 5A state tournament and could end up on the same side of the bracket depending on how the seeding formula comes out after the final day of the regular season.
Rounding out the Centennial League Challenge, Arapahoe took the third place game with a victory over Cherry Creek, Eaglecrest blanked Mullen to take fifth and Grandview scored a season-high 21 runs to beat Overland for seventh place.
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports
CENTENNIAL LEAGUE CHALLENGE SOFTBALL
Championship: Cherokee Trail 7, Smoky Hill 5
Score by innings (r-h-e):
Cherokee Trail 201 400 0 — 7 8 0
Smoky Hill 000 001 4 — 5 6 5
CHEROKEE TRAIL (ab-r-h-rbi)
Ryleigh Cruz 2b 4-2-2-2, Brooke Scott cf 4-0-0-0, Caitlin Cushenbery c 4-0-1-0, Jenna Medhus p 4-1-3-1, Addison Krei 3b 3-0-1-1, Kelsey Bell ss 4-0-0-0, Jaelyn Martinez lf 3-1-1-0, Abby Rupeka 1b 3-1-0-0, Alyssa Fullmer dp 2-1-0-0, Bella Padilla cr 0-1-0-0. Totals 31-7-8-4. Pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so): Jenna Medhus (W, 7-5-5-4-9-5).
SMOKY HILL (ab-r-h-rbi)
Jahlisa Klear 2b 3-1-0-0, Gabi Giroux ss 2-0-1-0, Amrajie Bass c 1-0-0-0, Izzy Giroux 1b 2-1-0-1, Delaney Farnsworth rf-p 2-1-1-2, Paris Elsberry 3b 4-0-1-0, Khya Jennings rf-cf 3-0-2-1, Kenedy Sandoval p 2-0-0-0, Ellie Virtue ph-lf 1-0-0-0, Morgan Cameron ph 1-0-0-0, Eliana Trujillo cf 3-0-0-0, Kailen Theel pr 0-1-0-0. Totals 24-5-5-4. Pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so): Kenedy Sandoval (L, 3 1/3-5-6-1-0-4), Delaney Farnsworth (3 2/3-3-1-1-2-4).
2B — Cherokee Trail: Jaelyn Martinez. Smoky Hill: Gabi Giroux. HR — Smoky Hill: Delaney Farnsworth (solo in 6th)